Anti-Abortion Democrat Again Tests Big Tent in House Primary

Two years ago, Rep. Dan Lipinski nearly lost his seat to a primary challenger who argued he’s too conservative to be a Democrat.

On Tuesday, Lipinski is betting he’s convinced voters in his suburban Chicago district that Marie Newman, who came 2,145 votes short of unseating the eight-term Illinois Democrat in 2018, is too liberal and represents an unwelcome change for their party.

“I just think, in general, people are, Democrats are looking at what’s going on in the party and are really concerned the party is really moving too far to the left,” Lipinski told reporters in the Capitol. “They’re concerned that a tea party of the left will hurt the party.”

Anti-abortion centrist Democrats like Lipinski are rare in Congress and in recent years have come under fire for their health care records, particularly on women’s rights and abortion access. This election cycle some are trying to push back by touting their own achievements and painting their opponents as out of touch or extreme.

“Alabama, you know, considers itself a pro-life state, but yet we have one of the highest infant mortalities, we have one of the highest maternal mortality rates,” said Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who also faces a tough re-election this year. “What I’ve been trying to do is focus on things that we can do to get better health care for women and children to reduce the number of abortions.”

Jones, while in the Senate and now facing re-election this year, has tried to thread the needle on abortion. Earlier this year he voted for a bill (S. 311) most of his fellow Democrats opposed that would have required doctors to care for a child born after a failed abortion attempt but he voted against a measure (S. 2311) to ban abortions after 20 weeks.

Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images
Abortion rights activists from NARAL Pro-Choice America demonstrate outside of the office of Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.)

Lipinski, a long-time Blue Dog Democrat, has seen opposition from national groups and prominent members of his own party for being one of only two House Democrats who regularly opposes abortion-rights legislation and one of a few who voted against the party’s signature health achievement, the Affordable Care Act, nearly a decade ago.

Newman has the backing of and a combined $25,000 in donations from a long list of major national organizing groups such as NARAL Pro-Choice America, EMILY’s List, MoveOn, Planned Parenthood Action Fund and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, as well as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a popular progressive and strong fundraiser. Planned Parenthood receives funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable organization founded by Michael Bloomberg. Michael Bloomberg is the majority owner of Bloomberg Government’s parent company.

“He’s a very conservative politician who is now really out of step with the values of the party,” Kristin Ford, a spokeswoman for NARAL, said of Lipinski.

Lipinski, however, said he thinks nationally the Democratic Party is swinging back toward people like him and away from Newman. He said he’s grown hopeful there’s still a place for him in the party after watching last week as former Vice President Joe Biden extended his delegate lead over the more-liberal Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the presidential primary.

“I think there’s a desire among Democrats to beat Donald Trump, and we need to be united instead of having the party being divided,” Lipinski said. “To do that we should make progress on those issues everyone can agree on.”

He said he’s focused his campaign on his record of defending Obamacare from attempts to repeal it and efforts to roll back some of the insurance taxes associated with the health law.

Biden, and all the major contenders who’ve sought the Democratic nomination, have been vocal advocates for abortion rights this election cycle.

Outside Help

Newman has raised more money this election cycle than Lipinski, according to Federal Election Commission data. The former consultant and abortion-rights advocate has raised nearly $1.7 million since January 2019, compared to Lipinski who has raised $1.2 million.

With the support of progressive organizations, Newman made national headlines during the 2018 election and this one by being a vocal advocate for policies like Medicare for All and repealing the tax cuts put in place by Republicans last Congress.

NARAL sent a full-time organizer to aid Newman’s campaign during the last six weeks of the race and started organized phone banks to build support for
her.

Lipinksi has garnered endorsements and support from local unions, such as the state AFL-CIO, the Chicago-area firefighters and police unions, and the steelworkers and pipefitters unions.

He’s also again getting a “seven figure” donation from the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, which in 2018 sent volunteers into Lipinski’s district to build support for him. This year, however, the group has fewer resources to dedicate to Lipinski and will instead contact anti-abortion-rights voters in the district with digital ads and phone calls, according to a source within the organization who asked not to be named to speak about the group’s work.

A third primary challenger, Rush Darwish, who owns a Chicago-area production company, has raised about half as much as Newman, just over $800,000, this election cycle. He could be key to Lipinski’s re-election, by splintering the anti-Lipinski vote. He’s also recently begun to criticize Newman for what he characterizes as a shifting stance on Medicare for All.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kyle Trygstad at ktrygstad@bgov.com; Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com

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