A year ago, Marie Newman lost the Democratic primary in Illinois’s 3rd District to Rep. Dan Lipinski, a right-leaning 13-year incumbent, by 2,000 votes.
Newman, who announced yesterday that she’ll run again in 2020, has to be encouraged by what’s happened since.
In New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez knocked off old guard Democratic congressman Joe Crowley. In Massachusetts, Ayanna Pressley defeated 20-year incumbent Michael Capuano. In Chicago, mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot ended the political aspirations of Machine prince Bill Daley, while longtime aldermen Joe Moore and Patrick O’Connor lost their seats on the city council to young progressives.
A year on, Newman’s near-win looks more like the beginning of a wave she could now ride to Congress.
Democratic families don’t get much older guard than the Lipinskis. The patriarch, Bill Lipinski, was appointed 23rd Ward committeeman by Mayor Richard J. Daley. He then served as an alderman before going to Congress in 1983.
In 2004, Bill handed the seat off to his son by employing the cheapest of Machine maneuvers: he won the primary, then dropped off the ballot, so the 23rd Ward committeemen (himself included) could appoint his successor.
It’s kind of amazing that the Lipinski dynasty has lasted this long. They’re the type of blue-collar Catholic Machine politicians who defined the Democratic Party from the New Deal through the Vietnam War.
The family is patriotic and socially conservative, but it also believes in organized labor and spending money for public works — especially on the southwest side of Chicago, which the 3rd District encompasses. Bill Lipinksi’s greatest political achievement was getting federal funding for the CTA Orange Line, in exchange for a vote to allow President Ronald Reagan to arm the Nicaraguan Contras.
But Dan Lipinski is opposed to same-sex marriage. This year, he was the sole House Democrat who didn’t co-sponsor the Equality Act, which would protect the civil rights of LGBTQ+ citizens; Lipinski said it would conflict with religious liberty.
Dan was also one of 34 Democrats who voted against the Affordable Care Act, and is such a staunch opponent of abortion that he co-sponsored the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.
A Democratic Party that is moving farther to the left isn’t just leaving conservatives like Lipinski behind; it’s seeking to purge them. The middle ground on which the Lipinskis once stood is disappearing from American politics, as the Republicans try to pull the country back toward a white, Christian past and the Democrats try to push it toward a multicultural future.
“He’s just really out of step,” said fellow Illinois Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who opposed Lipinksi in last year’s primary, in The Atlantic. “This is a really progressive moment where new candidates, first-time candidates are running strong — people who are standing up for basic principles that Dan has continually voted against.”
Newman didn’t exactly lose with grace in 2018. She refused to concede to Lipinski on election night, saying, "I would like Mr. Lipinski to have a very painful evening.”
She then said her family would never forgive Lipinski because, she claimed, his campaign had sent out texts accusing her of running an abortion clinic and trying to defund the Little Sisters of the Poor.
Despite that, Newman has a better chance this time than she did in 2018. Here in Illinois, the 2020 congressional primary will be held on the same day as the presidential primary, which means the supporters of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Pete Buttigieg — candidates whose philosophies are inimical to Lipinski’s — are going to show up at the polls.
“We deserve a representative who will vote like a real Democrat in Congress — not someone who routinely sides with Trump and conservative interest groups over his own constituents,” Newman wrote in the tweet announcing her candidacy.
Newman helped start 2018’s trend of primarying crusty big city Machine Democrats. She didn’t quite reap the benefits, but she may yet.