One of Congress's last remaining pro-life Democrats faces an onslaught of progressive challengers Tuesday in a race that will help determine whether a place remains in the party for opponents of abortion.
Rep. Dan Lipinski (D., Ill.), one of four remaining pro-life House Democrats, narrowly survived a primary challenge from the left in 2018, edging out progressive Marie Newman by just 2 points. The pair is set for a rematch Tuesday, despite the outbreak of coronavirus, and abortion groups are again threatening the eight-term incumbent.
Also challenging Lipinski from the left is Palestinian-American Rush Darwish, who has charged that Newman is insufficiently anti-Israel. Darwish accused Newman, who is backed by the Soros-funded organization J Street, of taking on pro-Israel views to attract "Jewish donors" in October—a claim Newman called "an absolute lie."
Lipinski's tough reelection fight comes as Democratic leaders lurch left on abortion. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) refused to welcome pro-life voters into the party in February, calling support for abortion "an absolutely essential part of being a Democrat." And after opposing the federal funding of abortion for decades, former vice president Joe Biden said he could "no longer support" the Hyde Amendment in June.
Newman is backed by the same big-spending national organizations that fueled her 2018 run, abortion giants Planned Parenthood Action Fund, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and EMILY's List, as well as Justice Democrats—the same group that fueled Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's (D., N.Y.) 2018 victory. The support has proved lucrative for Newman, who has benefited from more than $1.5 million in outside spending on her behalf.
Newman has also landed endorsements from prominent national progressives, including Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), and Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D., Mass.) and Pramila Jayapal (D., Wash.). Warren cited Newman's "unwavering commitment" to abortion when announcing her endorsement in September. The out-of-state attention has helped Newman more than double Lipinski's fundraising efforts down the stretch, raking in a pre-primary haul of more than $490,000 to Lipinski's nearly $223,000.
Lipinski's pro-life stance has attracted a blitz of national opposition, but it may prove to boost the incumbent at the ballot box. Only 39 percent of national Democrats support abortion "under any circumstances," and while Lipinski's district is strongly Democratic, it is made up of Chicago's west and southwest suburbs, which are predominantly Catholic and tend to hold more socially conservative views. A poll released by the Lipinski campaign in January showed the incumbent holding a 22-point lead over Newman, though 26 percent remained undecided. His record has attracted support from national pro-life groups, including Susan B. Anthony List.
"Rep. Lipinski knows who his constituents are and their opposition to the current Democratic Party platform that supports abortion on demand, up until birth, paid for by taxpayers," SBA List spokeswoman Mallory Quigley said. "The Democratic Party is working overtime to kick out pro-life Democrats and it will be to their own political peril."
In addition to abortion, Israel has emerged as an unlikely issue in the primary. Lipinski in 2014 cosponsored legislation opposing the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a move that Newman's campaign chair criticized in a previously unseen 2018 campaign ad. The ad assured that Newman "doesn't pander to special interest groups like AIPAC" in an attempt to attract the district's Arab-American population of more than 100,000.
Darwish entered the race in June and has faulted Newman for being insufficiently anti-Israel. He criticized Newman for no longer supporting BDS and for backing a two-state solution, which he claims no longer "works." According to Darwish, Newman said she made the changes to "attract more Jewish voters," a claim Newman denies.
Lipinski, who is staunchly pro-Israel, said Newman "continues down the same road" as Rep. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) in February, adding that his far-left challenger has "embraced every so-called progressive position, and unfortunately in the past year we have seen even more that the progressive position has become anti-Israel to some extent." In addition to backing Newman, Justice Democrats also supported Omar in 2018. Newman will hope to reverse the group's electoral failure in 2020—its handpicked candidate to challenge pro-life Rep. Henry Cuellar (D., Texas) lost in March.
While the state of Ohio faces legal challenges as it attempts to postpone its Tuesday primary due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Illinois election officials announced Monday that the state's primary would proceed as planned. Democratic Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker assured voters that holding the election was the "right thing to do" despite his order to cancel gatherings of 50 or more people.
"We have to have our elections continue. In my opinion, this is the right thing to do," the governor said. "I feel good about the decision to have the election."