At the Races: I Will Survive – The Dan Lipinski Story

Our weekly newsletter on congressional campaigns

Posted March 22, 2018 at 3:59pm

Welcome to At the Races! You can keep track of House and Senate races with this weekly newsletter by subscribing here. We want to hear what you think. Email us at with your questions, tips or candidate sightings. — Simone Pathé and Bridget Bowman


This week … general election matchups were set in Illinois, Mississippi got a new senator and California primary fields took shape.


Fuel up! Clean energy entrepreneur Sean Casten won a seven-way Democratic primary to face GOP Rep. Peter Roskam, above, in Illinois’ 6th District. Democrats see the suburban Clinton district as a must-win in November. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Fuel up! Clean energy entrepreneur Sean Casten won a seven-way Democratic primary to face GOP Rep. Peter Roskam, above, in Illinois’ 6th District. Democrats see the suburban Clinton district as a must-win in November. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Starting Gate

See You in 2020? Seven-term Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski narrowly survived his fiercest challenge yet Tuesday night. He defeated first-time candidate Marie Newman 51 percent to 49 percent in the Democratic primary for Illinois’ 3rd District. Newman didn’t concede until Wednesday morning, and she vowed to help defeat Lipinski in 2020. Just two months ago, this wasn’t much of a competitive race. EMILY’s List hadn’t even backed Newman yet. But Newman, who was boosted by early TV spending from NARAL, eventually earned the financial backing of a coalition of progressive and pro-abortion rights outside groups.

Lipinski had outside support, too, plus the benefit of a last name that’s been on the ballot here for nearly 36 years. (His father, Bill, served for 22 years before him.) Allies of both candidates are celebrating the close race as validation of their agenda heading into the midterms and beyond. On Lipinski’s side, donors to political affiliates of No Labels are already committed to spending in primaries to protect members of the Problem Solvers Caucus and play in open primaries. Newman’s allies, meanwhile, argue that her ability to close a significant gap with Lipinski in a matter of months proves that her progressive message is the future of the party.

Illinois’ 3rd District primary attracted the most attention, but it’s a Solid Democratic seat that’s unlikely to deliver much excitement for the rest of the cycle. That’s not the case in many of the other Prairie State districts that held contested Democratic primaries Tuesday night. General election matchups are now set in four GOP-held districts Democrats are targeting this year. That’s a big change from 2016, when Democrats failed to even recruit top-tier candidates in two districts that were drawn to be competitive for them.

*Bookmark* Check out the other competitive House races in 2018 with Roll Call’s Election Guide, which has race ratings from Inside Elections.

Round Four: The DCCC announced its fourth round of Red to Blue candidates, which includes candidates who have met certain goals for fundraising, local support and grass-roots engagement. This group will receive additional support form the committee. The most recent round includes two African-American candidates (the DCCC has been criticized for a lack of diversity in its Red to Blue candidates). The majority of the 33 candidates are now women. More on the new additions here.

Surf’s Up, Primary-Style: The filing deadline for open seats in California was last week, and what did we learn? There are still a bunch of candidates running, and they signaled how they plan to define themselves with their ballot designation (GOP Rep. Jeff Denham for example is listed as “Businessman/Farmer/Representative”). Democrats are still weighing how to thin the fields so they don’t get shut out of the November ballot — under California’s open primary, the top two vote-getters advance to the general election, regardless of party. One source familiar with the DCCC’s efforts said the time for more aggressive intervention is “fast approaching.”TIL How Reddit Works: [TIL is Reddit lingo for “Today I Learned” in case you, like an unnamed politics reporter, had no idea what that meant). But we did a Reddit AMA yesterday and it was a lot fun! We fielded some really thoughtful questions about the midterms, specific races, and our reporting. Check it out here. And we talk about our AMA experience in this quick video

Miss-issippi: Mississippi will have its first female member Congress next month, leaving Vermont as the only state that’s never sent a woman to the House or Senate. Gov. Phil Bryant announced Wednesday that he was appointing Cindy Hyde-Smith, the state’s Republican agriculture and commerce commissioner, to fill the seat being vacated by GOP Sen. Thad Cochran, who is resigning April 1 for health reasons. Hyde-Smith is expected to run in November to serve out the rest of Cochran’s term, where she’ll face GOP state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who nearly unseated Cochran in a 2014 primary. McDaniel wasted no time criticizing Hyde-Smith, calling on GOP leaders not to endorse the “former Democrat.” Niels Lesniewski with more.

The Count: 6

So far, six campaigns have staffers who have opted to unionize, all of them with candidates who are liberal Democrats. Eric Garcia breaks down the effort to unionize campaign staffers, especially to put in policies to combat sexual harassment.

Nathan’s Notes

Nathan made ratings changes in two Illinois races after the primaries Tuesday night. The governor’s race moved from Tilts Democratic to Leans Democratic. The contest between Democrat J.B. Pritzker and GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner is likely to be one of the most expensive gubernatorial contests ever. And the 6th District became more favorable for Democrats, too. Catch up on all Illinois race ratings here.

Candidate Confessions

Cort VanOstran is a Democrat challenging GOP Rep. Ann Wagner in Missouri’s 2nd District. Inside Elections rates the race Solid Republican. (President Donald Trump carried the seat by 10 points.) But VanOstran, a 29-year-old-lawyer, thinks he has a shot, especially by focusing on health care. He has outraised Wagner the past two fundraising quarters, though Wagner has more than $3.2 million on hand, compared to VanOstran’s $240,000. One fun fact about VanOstran: While attending Harvard, he lived directly above President John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s Harvard dorm room, where guests of the Institute of Politics can stay.

Reader’s Race

Iowa’s 1st District is one of 21 districts that flipped from backing President Barack Obama in 2012 to backing Trump in 2016, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections. So GOP Rep. Rod Blum is a top target for Democrats this year. Democrats have a slight voter registration advantage in the 1st District, which is situated in northeastern Iowa and includes Cedar Rapids. Democrats believe they have a strong candidate in state Rep. Abby Finkenauer, who has said she would focus on fighting for working families in Congress. Finkenauer is on the DCCC’s Red to Blue program, and she outraised Blum in the final fundraising quarter of 2017.

Three other Democrats filed on March 9 to challenge Blum, including former Obama Labor Department official Thomas Heckworth, who also worked for former Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin. George Ramsey, an Army veteran whose military career brought him to Iowa in 2012, is also running, as is Courtney Rowe, an engineer who served in the Air Force Reserves.

Blum, who is in the NRCC’s Patriot Program for vulnerable incumbents, still has an advantage of nearly $1 million in cash on hand. He did face criticism recently for potentially violating House Ethics rules by failing to disclose ownership of a marketing company. Blum is one of the more wealthy vulnerable incumbents and he has so far loaned $500,000 to his campaign. Inside Elections ratest the 1st District race Tilts Republican.

For next week, email us at and let us know which race you want to know more about: New Hampshire’s 1st District or Colorado’s 6th District.

Photo Finish

Snow problem! While some scoffed at D.C. shutting down over a few inches of snow, many took advantage of the snow and went sledding! Kids had to fight to sled at the Capitol too, even holding a “sled-in” back in 2015. Sled on, America. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) 

DC Snow