(CNN) Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski of Illinois became the first House incumbent to lose their primary election in 2020, CNN projects, in a victory for progressives and abortion-rights advocates who have long seen the eight-term congressman as being out of touch with the Democratic Party.
After coming close to unseating him in the 2018 primary, Marie Newman defeated Lipinski on Tuesday amid a coronavirus pandemic that has caused several states to postpone their primaries. With 97% of precincts reporting in the district, Newman had 47.6% of the vote to Lipinski’s 44.1%.
For many reasons, 2020 was not like 2018 — not the least of which was the pandemic, which may have shaped turnout in ways that were detrimental to the congressman, whose supporters in this Chicago-area district have tended to skew older.
The primary in Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District was another test of whether a progressive female candidate could unseat a Blue Dog Democrat, whose local loyalties have been fading as his district changes, and whether the House Democratic conference would be even less of a “big tent” on abortion rights.
A big base of support for Newman was among suburban and well-educated voters, and she may have benefited from a presidential race that’s energizing base voters who side with her — not Lipinski — on issues like abortion.
Lipinski is one of the few remaining Democrats in the House who opposes abortion rights and voted against the Affordable Care Act. Earlier this month, Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas — another conservative Democrat who votes against abortion rights — survived a challenge from his former intern, immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros. Like Newman, she had the backing of the progressive group Justice Democrats, which was behind New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s rise, and significant financial firepower from EMILY’s List.
Lipinski won by just 2 points in 2018 by mobilizing the Chicago political machine, which first helped his father, and then him, come to Congress. But that machine isn’t what it used to be. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the city’s first black female chief executive, backed Newman.
Newman had argued she was in a better position this year than when she was a first-time candidate two years ago.
“We learned from the first race — there are things that I didn’t do well, and I’m now doing well,” Newman said on an EMILY’s List call with reporters on Friday.
She started fundraising earlier — she’d raised $1.7 million by the end of the pre-primary reporting period, compared with about $1 million at that point two years ago. That’s more than Lipinski, who had raised $1.25 million by the end of this year’s pre-primary reporting period.
“We had a very small voter-outreach program,” Newman said of her 2018 campaign. But as of Friday, she boasted that 3,000 volunteers had knocked on more than 100,000 doors. Between Saturday morning and Election Day, they made 192,000 phone calls — something they did much more of as coronavirus halted in-person voter contact ahead of the St. Patrick’s Day primary.
The team may even do “a little Irish dancing,” Newman joked on Friday, “so we keep our hands down.”
Newman won earlier support from major reproductive rights groups, some of which had been slow to coalesce around her in 2018. A coalition of groups including EMILY’s List, NARAL and Planned Parenthood has spent $1.4 million backing her.
“We need a real Democrat with a real plan,” Newman said Friday. She paints herself as the true ally of congressional Democrats, thanking “my friends in Congress” for their work on a coronavirus stimulus package. Over the weekend, she knocked Lipinski — who was back in the district early Saturday — for not voting on the legislation.
“He was prepared to fly back to DC to vote for the package but after conferring with House leadership they told him they had reached a bipartisan deal and his vote wasn’t necessary,” Lipinski’s office spokesman Phil Davidson told CNN in an email Monday. “He definitely would have been a yes vote.”
Lipinski’s campaign did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Lipinski held a tele-town hall on the coronavirus Saturday morning, which 24,000 constituents dialed in to, according to his office.
Neither Newman nor Lipinski endorsed a presidential candidate, but several of them had backed Newman as they looked to solidify their progressive bona fides last year. The only progressive remaining in the race, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, trailed former Vice President Joe Biden in the delegate count heading into Tuesday and lost all three states that had primaries on Tuesday to Biden.
Serving on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and chairing the subcommittee on railroads, Lipinski touted his service to the district. Although he voted against Obamacare in 2010, he’s opposed GOP efforts to roll it back and argues that Newman poses a greater threat to the law because she supports “Medicare for All.” The Chicago Tribune editorial board took his side, writing that “such massive government spending programs are unworkable and unaffordable.”
But there wasn’t much of a concerted effort to save someone who’s so out of the mainstream of the national Democratic Party, especially since the district, which backed Hillary Clinton by 15 points in 2016, is likely to remain in Democratic hands in November.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has promised to blacklist all consultants who work for primary candidates against incumbents. But Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois, the chair of the committee, was forced to cancel a fundraiser with Lipinski last year because of pressure from the left.
Lipinski benefited from minimal outside spending by the super PAC affiliate of Susan B. Anthony List, which typically backs Republican women opposed to abortion rights, and a super PAC called the Center Forward Committee, which spent about $40,000 on direct mail for him as of mid-March.