The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is entrenched in a messy primary in Illinois as it neglects to endorse an incumbent Blue Dog Democrat.
The party's campaign arm has aligned itself more with Marie Newman, a liberal activist challenging seven-term Congressman Dan Lipinski (D.) in Illinios' 3rd Congressional District. The DCCC is aware of the potential long-term implications of kicking Lipinski to the curb as it struggles to rebuild its standing with blue-collar voters, Politico reports.
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Lipinski, one of the most conservative members of the House Democratic Caucus who is pro-life and voted against Obamacare, is facing Newman in a heated primary for the working-class district southwest of Chicago where one-third of the residents are Latino.
While the DCCC has attempted to stay out of the public eye, Newman has gained national endorsements from pro-choice groups EMILY's List and the NARAL Pro-Choice America PAC, as well as from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). He has also been endorsed by Reps. Luis Gutiérrez (D., Ill.) and Jan Schakowsky (D., Ill.), who is a member of DCCC leadership.
Lipinski meanwhile has gained several local endorsements of importance as he sits on a sturdy campaign chest formed after serving seven terms representing a district his father served before him.
Lipinski framed the DCCC's decision as a sign to others who might be looking to enter public service.
"I don’t think what the DCCC does or says means a lot for my race as much as sending a signal to other Democrats who are looking to run," Lipinski said.
He argued that if the party is to regain the majority in the House, the DCCC should be standing with incumbents, even when their views are slightly off the Democratic leadership's.
"Democrats have to know that they’re going to have the full support [of the DCCC] even if they’re not straight in the party line," Lipinski added. "And we need candidates who are not straight along the party line to win the districts we need for the majority."
Lipinski is part of the struggling center-left Blue Dogs Coalition, a group of 18 Democratic members led by Reps. Henry Cuellar (Texas) and Jim Costa (Calif.) Cuellar recently discussed the DCCC endorsement with committee chairman Ben Ray Luján (D., N.M.) over dinner in January.
"We would be disappointed" if the endorsement didn’t come, Cuellar said recently. "Especially when I personally spoke to the chairman and the chairman told me ‘We will be supporting the incumbent.’"
Sources close to the Blue Dog Democrats were under the impression the DCCC was gearing up to endorse Lipinski publicly in recent weeks.
Luján said the Illinois congressman is "taking the race seriously," inferring he didn't need extensive support from the DCCC.
"Congressman Lipinski is taking this race seriously, he has ample resources and support at home, and is running to win," Luján said in a statement.
A DCCC aide expanded on the chairman's statement, disputing the idea there was ever any commitment from to endorse Lipinski or that the Blue Dogs even requested an endorsement. He added that the DCCC has provided Lipinski support in the ways it traditionally offers incumbents, such as providing analysis of the district and recommendations for consultants.
Newman's Campaign manager Erik Wallenius hit Lipinski for being a "Democrat in name only" as he argued in favor of the Democratic Party's reserve to endorse the incumbent.
"Democratic Party institutions’ reticence to endorse Rep. Lipinski is understandable — Rep. Lipinski is a Democrat in name only," Wallenius said in a statement.
Some Democrats on Capitol Hill have agreed with Lipinski's assessment, arguing the DCCC's actions could have a lasting effect on other members and potential candidates who don't line up with the progressive Democratic agenda.
"If someone is a big donor to the DCCC or is a big voice like Schakowsky, if members go astray, are they going to have to watch their back?" a Democratic House staffer posed.
"I think it’s shocking that the DCCC or Chairman Luján can’t say that they support Congressman Lipinski. Supporting incumbents should be No. 1 there," the staffer continued.
Schakowsky argued her endorsement won’t cause Democrats to lose the seat in a heavily Democratic district.
"This has nothing to do with going after people who differ in positions from me around the country. This is a particular race in this district, in my state," the Democratic congresswoman said. "I’m not on a crusade to get rid of Blue Dogs by any means. We hopefully will elect more in this election cycle."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) had not weighed in on the race, but Lipinski did praise Pelosi when she said there is not a litmus test for Democrats who oppose abortion. Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) has donated to his campaign.
A recent internal poll shows Lipinski up 57 percent to Newman’s 21 percent. With three weeks until the primary, Super PACs and progressive groups supporting Newman–armed with deep pockets–are ramping up television ads and mailers.