If Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., is beaten by his progressive opponent in next month’s primary, liberals are hoping it sends a signal to other potential candidates that they can take on an incumbent from the left and win.
A number of Democratic lawmakers have attracted challenges from the left but few are as endangered as Lipinski, and he’s receiving no help from the party apparatus.
With influential progressive groups in her corner, businesswoman and nonprofit executive Marie Newman is closing in on the seven-term congressman.
Three weeks out from the March 20 primary and Lipinski is in the fight of his career.The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has held back on endorsing him despite promises, reported by Politico, that it would do so. Members of the Blue Dog Coalition, which Lipinski co-chairs, have bristled at the snub by DCCC and are stunned by their Democratic colleagues fundraising for his opponent.
Progressives see Newman’s bid as a test. Does the Democratic Party believe a woman’s right to an abortion is a core principle — Lipinski opposes legal abortion — and can a progressive oust an incumbent Democratic congressman?
Those rallying behind Newman, argue that Lipinski doesn’t represent the district’s views on a variety of policy issues. In his time representing the solidly blue district, Lipinski has voted against LGBT rights, abortion rights, the Dream Act, and the Affordable Care Act.
“It’s not just Dan Lipinski, but there are Democrats in blue districts across the country that do not represent the policies of voters in those district, whether it’s about holding Wall Street accountable or whether it’s about Medicare for all,” said Waleed Shahid, spokesman for Justice Democrats. “This is really going to send a message to those Democrats that they should be held accountable and watch their back.”
Shahid criticized Democratic campaign arms for trying to clamp down on grassroots candidates, making it harder for them to secure resources and access. But so far, few challenges from the left against sitting Democratic lawmakers have gained steam.
If Newman wins, Shahid predicted, that could change, especially in future cycles.
“Marie Newman and the organizations that have endorsed her have shown tremendous courage to stand up to that [Democratic] machine,” Shahid said. “If Marie Newman wins it will send a big shock wave and there will be more of this stuff happening.”
For freshman Rep. Ro Khanna of California, who endorsed Newman, the race captures the split among Democrats on the issue of abortion rights in particular. As party leaders welcome Democratic candidates who oppose abortion rights, arguing that to win back majorities they have to have a big tent, progressives and powerful reproductive rights groups have grown in number.
Khanna equated Lipinski’s anti-abortion stance to someone who might support racial segregation. “I don’t think we can support someone who does not believe in the legal right to reproductive choice,” Khanna told the Washington Examiner.
Khanna said he respects members’ personal faith and views on abortion but that the party shouldn’t tolerate those who vote against abortion rights.
“It’s too important an issue to consider the electoral politics,” Khanna said. “Would we put up a candidate in a swing district who believed in the Muslim ban, and say, ‘Well, that’s just the politics of the region?’ Absolutely not.”
“This is a question of what does the party stand for? Do we believe that a women’s right to choose is a fundamental human right that should be a core principle of this party?” Khanna continued. “I believe it should.”
Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois said the contrast between Newman and Lipinski compelled her to get involved.
“I’ve never endorsed against a member of Congress, an incumbent, before,” Schakowsky said. But Newman’s pro-abortion rights, pro-LGBT, and progressive platform attracted the Illinois Democrat.
Schakowsky, a member of DCCC leadership, said she never would have endorsed Newman if it threatened Democrats’ hold on the district.
But a number of Democrats are frustrated by the party’s handling of the race. The DCCC’s decision to remain out of the race and not endorse Lipinski baffled not just official Blue Dog members, but moderates in caucus.
“Not getting involved is getting involved,” said Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio. “I hope we’re not going down the road of purity tests.”
“DCCC should be protecting its incumbents,” said Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif.
Lipinski didn’t want to comment on the DCCC’s reticence to support him, instead saying his constituents are “very, very happy that I’m not a rubber stamp.”
The Chicago Democrat brushed off questions about Newman’s attacks on his voting record, saying he’s confident about his re-election. Lipinski pointed to his poll numbers, which internally put him ahead of Newman by 30 points.