Insurgent Marie Newman Upsets Rep. Dan Lipinski, the Most Conservative Democrat in Congress

Amid the coronavirus crisis, Newman eked out a victory over Lipinski, who had opposed fellow Democrats on on health care, abortion rights, and immigration.

In this Monday, March 9, 2020, photo, Marie Newman smiles as she campaigns in the Archer Heights neighborhood of Chicago. Newman almost unseated Illinois Republican Rep. Dan Lipinski a staunch abortion opponent and one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, in 2018, and is trying again in the March 17 primary. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Marie Newman campaigns in the Archer Heights neighborhood of Chicago, Ill., on March 9, 2020. Photo: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Voters in Chicago’s southwest suburbs voted by a slim margin on Tuesday to upset an incumbent Democrat who has opposed party efforts on health care, abortion rights, and immigration.

Dan Lipinski, who narrowly survived Marie Newman’s attempt to oust him in 2018, will no longer represent Illinois’s 3rd Congressional District as a Democrat. Newman — following a controversial decision by the state’s Democratic Party to hold its primary amid the coronavirus crisis — narrowly defeated Lipinski in her second attempt, according to projections and a call by Decision Desk HQ. With 90 percent of precincts reporting, Newman took 47.7 percent of the vote, to Lipinski’s 43.6.

In 2018, Newman lost by 2.4 points to Lipinski, the son of an old-school Chicago machine politician who was handed his seat by his father. Newman faced pushback from party leadership and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, an organ of the party establishment. But as progressive groups and liberal lawmakers sprung to Newman’s aid, giving her momentum heading into the primary, widespread fears circulated that the coronavirus outbreak would dampen her vote count Tuesday.

Thousands of people, including at least 100 medical professionals, called for Illinois and the three other states scheduled to hold concurrent primary elections to postpone the vote. A memo sent last week by the Democratic National Committee warned that states that delayed their primaries could face penalties including cutting their delegates in half, The Guardian reported. The DNC said Monday the decision to delay primaries lay with states, not with the committee. Four states chose to postpone their primary elections. And Illinois Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced the state’s first coronavirus death on Tuesday. Yet the vote went ahead as scheduled.

Newman’s race appeared to be in trouble when, in Chicago and surrounding areas, voter turnout on Tuesday was “extremely low,” as the Chicago Tribune reported. Voters fielded competing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Democratic Party officials when deciding whether to vote.

Analysts, and some primary candidates, said in the lead-up to Tuesday’s votes that the spread of coronavirus could very well help to protect incumbents and disadvantage insurgent campaigns relying on new voter turnout.

Numerous polling places in Illinois shut down Tuesday, while others lacked necessary voting and sanitizing supplies, resulting in hourslong delays.

At one polling location, 16-year-old volunteer Rebecca Gross told The Intercept that her precinct never received voting supplies and had to turn away every voter who arrived Tuesday to alternative locations. Voters were eventually redirected to a second and third polling location, the first of which had at least a two-hour wait. Gross said at least five of her fellow poll workers were elderly. She had tweeted earlier that the polling location was also missing two election judges.

Numerous voters encountered malfunctioning machines and long lines. One posted her concerns to Facebook. “Nobody on the Chicago Board of Elections [or] 311 is answering,” they wrote. Another voter said they couldn’t vote in either of two precincts. “@Marie4Congress couldn’t vote at 69 or 44 precinct this AM due to issues in Western Springs! Nothing works!” they wrote.

Newman sent an email Tuesday afternoon encouraging volunteers to continue get-out-the-vote efforts from home. “We won’t have volunteers knocking on doors or organizing large groups to go to the polls — and that’s the way it should be right now,” the email read. “If you can spare some time today, sign up to make calls from home and encourage folks to make their voices heard today.”

As of Friday, Newman told The Intercept that her canvassers were continuing to knock on doors. She hadn’t stopped campaigning, but was taking precautions to mitigate the possibility of spreading or contracting coronavirus.

“We are trying to simultaneously keep everyone safe and voting,” Newman said, speculating that turnout would likely be down as a result of the pandemic. Tuesday’s numbers seemed to roughly match those from 2018, which was not a presidential election year. With 90 percent of precincts reporting, over 82,000 votes were in; in 2018, there were just under 92,000 votes total. She announced Friday that she’d be voting early with her family on Saturday ahead of Tuesday’s election.

Lipinski opposed much of the Democratic agenda. He’s against abortion rights and is hostile to LGBTQ equality; has an anti-immigrant record; voted against the Affordable Care Act; and, in the past, has opposed a $15 an hour minimum wage. Taking him out marks a significant accomplishment for the progressive wing of the party.

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