Liberal groups seeking to oust Democratic incumbents face their next big test Tuesday with a well-funded primary challenge against Illinois Rep. Daniel Lipinski, as voter turnout appears uncertain amid the nation’s expanding coronavirus epidemic.
Lipinski, a Democrat opposed to abortion rights, faces repeat opponent Marie Newman, whom he barely held off two years ago. And this time, outside groups invested on Newman’s behalf earlier in the Chicago-area 3rd District race.
Another House Democrat, Joyce Beatty of Ohio, also has a primary challenge, although the state’s governor, Republican Mike DeWine, recommended Monday that its primary be postponed until June.
For now, polls are still set to open in Illinois, Florida, Arizona and possibly Ohio.
“I started fundraising a lot earlier this time,” Newman, who has the support of such groups as Emily’s List, NARAL and Planned Parenthood, said during a press call organized by Emily’s List, which backs female Democrats who support abortion rights.
Women Vote, a super PAC connected with Emily’s List, has put about $1 million into the race.
“Emily’s List did get involved very early on this cycle,” group spokesman Benjamin Ray said. “And that’s the sort of thing that can really help a campaign over the course of months and years, rather than days and weeks.”
Newman also got the endorsement of Justice Democrats, a group that has spearheaded primary challenges to mainstream Democrats, such as New York’s Joseph Crowley, who was chairman of the House Democratic Caucus when he was upset in a 2018 primary by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Earlier this month, Jessica Cisneros, the group’s pick to oust Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, was unsuccessful.
Newman’s supporters aren’t limited to outsiders: Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois’ 9th District has also endorsed the challenger.
Another Illinois Democrat, 14-term Rep. Bobby L. Rush, also faces primary challengers, but none that Justice Democrats has endorsed.
In the Democratic primary for Ohio’s 3rd District, which includes much of Columbus, Beatty faces lawyer Morgan Harper, who worked for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for three years.
It’s the first primary Beatty has faced since she won her seat in 2012.
Harper drew attention when she earned an endorsement from Justice Democrats, and she beat Beatty in fundraising during the third quarter of 2019, raising $333,100 to the congresswoman’s $247,600.
But Beatty has since outraised Harper by nearly $385,000, and she also holds a cash-on-hand advantage, $1.2 million to Harper’s $157,000 as of Feb. 26.
David Pepper, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, said Beatty, who spent years at Ohio State University and was the first woman to serve as Democratic leader in the Ohio General Assembly, has taken the race seriously, airing TV ads and campaigning in earnest.
“Joyce has treated this like the most important challenge to her elected position that anyone could mount,” he said. “So I think she’s in a good place.”
By contrast, Pepper said Harper has not run TV ads and focused instead on grassroots organizing. Much of her individual fundraising has been from outside the district, he said.
Lipinski, who was first elected in 2004 to succeed his father, appears more vulnerable. Newman has raised nearly $1.7 million to his $1.2 million.
All but about $150,000 of the outside money in the race — totaling $1.6 million — has gone to support Newman or oppose Lipinski. The primary also includes activist Rush Darwish, who has raised less than $1 million.
Expected high turnout of a presidential year may benefit Newman, said Andrew Civettini, who lives in the district and is an associate professor of political science at Knox College.
Though more people have requested vote-by-mail ballots or have participated in early voting this year, it’s unclear whether concerns about the coronavirus would dampen turnout Tuesday.
Newman said she held 10 campaign events Friday morning, though they were holding smaller events, promoting hygiene and encouraging people to vote early.
Civettini said the advertisements had been nonstop. Lipinski, he said, “is getting hammered this time” by outside spending.
“There are a number of factors which are unusual that increase uncertainty,” he said.
Despite widespread panic over COVID-19, elections officials in the four states with primaries Tuesday said they planned to carry on.
In a joint statement, top voting officials from the four states said they planned to regularly sanitize voting machines and were “working closely with our state health officials to ensure that our poll workers and voters can be confident that voting is safe.”
The officials drew a distinction between voting and other events that have been canceled.
“Unlike concerts, sporting events or other mass gatherings where large groups of people travel long distances to congregate in a confined space for an extended period of time, polling locations see people from a nearby community coming into and out of the building for a short duration,” they said.