Seven-term Democratic Rep. Daniel Lipinski survived his most competitive political contest yet, defeating first-time candidate Marie Newman in Illinois’ 3rd District primary.
Lipinski led Newman 51 percent to 49 percent, with 97 percent of precincts reporting, when The Associated Press called the race for the incumbent early Wednesday morning.
Newman conceded Wednesday morning. “After reviewing the results, we know that we lost by a thin margin,” she said in a statement. “It was a good fight and I am so proud of the grassroots movement we built with hundreds of volunteers and partners all over the district.” Her campaign said she will continue the “fight to oust Lipinski in 2020.”
A co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition, Lipinski is one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress. “We need to have a party that’s inclusive,” he told supporters Tuesday night before the race was called. “We shouldn’t be pushing people out, we should be bringing people in.”
The incumbent started this race as the favorite, with a hefty financial edge and greater name recognition. He was handpicked to succeed his father in 2004, which means a Lipinski has been on the ballot here for nearly 36 years.
Recent public polling conducted for Newman’s team, however, had showed a close race. Newman had attracted outside spending from a coalition of progressive and pro-abortion rights groups that attacked Lipinski’s record. He’s one of the few remaining Democrats in the House who opposed the 2010 health care law and consistently votes against abortion rights.
Newman also had the backing of Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who carried the district during the 2016 presidential primary.
That was a turning point in this race gaining national attention, said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, which took to the airwaves against Lipinski in November, one of the first group to do so.
“It really woke up the conventional wisdom and consultant class,” Hogue said of Gutiérrez and Schakowsky’s move. After that, Newman’s fundraising picked up and EMILY’s List and Planned Parenthood Action Fund endorsed her.
Those groups joined with NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Human Rights Campaign, the Service Employees International Union and MoveOn.org on an independent expenditure campaign, spending more than $1.6 million on direct mail, get-out-the-vote efforts and digital and TV ads, some of which tied Lipinski to President Donald Trump.
But Schakowsky’s endorsement, in particular, angered some members of the Democratic Caucus since she’s a member of the leadership team of the Democratic Congressional Committee, which exists to protect incumbents.
Blue Dogs were also mad that DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján didn’t endorse Lipinski. But Lipinski recently said he was receiving support from the committee.
The early spending from Newman’s side forced Lipinski to dip into his own coffers. He ran ads touting his votes against Trump’s agenda. He also benefited from spending by United for Progress, a super PAC with links to advocacy group No Labels. The anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, which usually backs Republicans, also spent on Lipinski’s behalf, underscoring the salience of the abortion issue in this primary.
Besides being a familiar name, Lipinski may have benefited from his close ties to the local power structure. He made out well in the post-2010 census redistricting and was boosted by the ground game of the Chicago political machine during this race.
With the backing of local labor groups and the endorsement of Chicago’s major newspapers, Lipinski — also a political scientist by training — tried to portray himself as a champion of working people who’s willing to work across the aisle.
But Hogue doesn’t think the incumbent will hold on much longer. “Even if Lipinski wins tonight,” she said before polls had closed, “he’s not going to win in 2020.”
“A win is better, but I don’t think they’re going back. The message to the political body has been sent,” Hogue said, noting that the momentum Newman gained over the course of the race against a longtime incumbent was similar to the trend of Democratic candidates narrowing margins in special elections since Trump’s election.
Lipinski will face Republican Arthur Jones in the general election in November. Jones won despite active Republican party opposition to his campaign over his denial of the holocaust and other far-right conservative views.
Watch: Blue Dog vs. Progressive — What to Watch in the Illinois Primaries