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Early strike: Progressive groups unite behind Lipinski foe in Illinois

Backing for Marie Newman comes amid tension with Democratic leaders trying to protect incumbents

Marie Newman is making a second primary challenge to Rep. Daniel Lipinski in Illinois and got the early backing of liberal and abortion rights groups Monday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Marie Newman is making a second primary challenge to Rep. Daniel Lipinski in Illinois and got the early backing of liberal and abortion rights groups Monday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Several abortion rights and progressive groups announced on Monday they are endorsing Marie Newman’s bid to oust Illinois Rep. Daniel Lipinski in next year’s primary, an unusually early and coordinated strike against one of the of the most moderate Democrats in Congress. 

The endorsements, from EMILY’s List, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood, MoveOn, and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, are among the first from major national organizations for the 2020 primaries. 

It’s also a show of strength from groups that, after working to help Democrats take control of the House in 2018, are promising to oust members they see as out of touch.

Newman made similar arguments in challenging Lipinski in the 2018 primary, but came up short. Her supporters say they hope to build on last year’s efforts to get a better result.

“More and more of the base in the Democratic Party is recognizing that Dan Lipinski is too far outside the mainstream on a whole set of issues that are just core to our values and principle,” said Dan Kalik, senior political adviser at MoveOn. “We are just not willing to accept that he has to be a representative from that district.”

Kalik added that he could not recall such a broad show of support for a primary challenger during what is usually a quiet period of the congressional election cycle. Illinois will not hold its Democratic primaries until next March. 

But the unified statement also risks exacerbating tensions with the Democratic establishment, which has attracted criticism for trying to protect incumbents from challengers.

Similar to Tea Party movement?

In a statement, Lipinski compared Newman’s campaign to the 2010 Tea Party insurgency that created lasting rifts within the Republican Party. 

“These endorsements make clear that Marie Newman is again running a ‘tea party of the left’ campaign at the behest of national interest groups rather than focusing on taking care of the everyday concerns of people in the district,” Lipinski said.  

Lipinski’s solidly blue district encompasses working class neighborhoods in Chicago’s southern suburbs where voters have historically held more conservative views on social issues.

Lipinski maintained he was representing those constituents when he voted against abortion rights, heath care, and gay rights measures. Progressives have argued that Lipinski’s version of moderation has become outdated, as his and other suburban districts have shifted to the left. Inside Elections with Nathan Gonzales rates the race Solid Democratic

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“This is both an accountability moment…and a chance to clean up the party’s brand so it is very clear to general voters in 2020 what the party stands for,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. 

Green said Newman’s progressive backers had been inflamed in recent weeks after the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced a controversial policy that it would not work  with consultants and other operatives who assist candidates who challenge incumbent House Democrats.

Newman picked up one of her first endorsements after she complained that the policy had made it difficult for her to attract and retain consultants. 

Newman, the founder of an anti-bullying nonprofit, came within 2 points of beating Lipinski in 2018, the closest Lipsinski came to defeat in his eight-term career. 

In that race, Newman had early backing from NARAL pro-choice America, but it wasn’t until later in the race that a coalition of progressive and pro-abortion rights groups formed a super PAC called Citizens for a Better Illinois, which ultimately spent more than $1.6 million on the race.

Representatives from the groups backing her this time around said the early support is meant to capitalize on the momentum they built in 2018. 

“Marie is running a strong campaign, and we think that by getting in early that we can help ensure that this time she gets through the primary and she gets to Congress,” said Benjamin Ray of EMILY’s List, which backs Democratic women who support abortion rights. 

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