Dan Lipinski concedes: Could not overcome low Chicago vote, progressive strength
With the 3rd Congressional District heavily Democratic, Marie Newman is poised to win election in November.
U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski conceded the Democratic primary to Marie Newman on Wednesday, unable to overcome disappointing shortfalls from his political base — the Chicago wards — and the growing strength of abortion rights progressives in the 3rd Congressional District.
Lipinski, 53, a Democrat from Western Springs, did not comment Tuesday because there were mail ballots still to be counted after a day of voting where turnout dropped overall because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“As the numbers stand right now, it appears that I will not prevail,” Lipinski said at his Oak Lawn campaign office, flanked by his wife, Judy.
“I want to hold this press conference today because we don’t know what the restrictions may be tomorrow because of the coronavirus. But if the current numbers do hold, I wanted to congratulate Marie Newman on her victory.”
After a narrow loss to Lipinski in 2018, the victory of Newman, 55, from LaGrange, resonated nationally because it was a major win for the progressive wing of the Democratic party.
The latest unofficial returns give Newman 47.1% of the vote to 44.7% for Lipinski, with Newman’s winning margin 2,476 votes. In 2018, Lipinski squeezed through the primary with 2,145 votes.
Rush Darwish, from Palos Hills, made his political debut aiming for votes from the growing Palestinian American population in the district, which sweeps in portions of southwest suburbs. He got 5.9% and a former 23rd Ward precinct worker, Charles Hughes, received 2.3%.
Lipinski won in 2018 because of an outpouring of votes from a cluster of precincts on the Southwest Side wards and support from anti-abortion Catholic turf for one of the few Democrats opposed to abortion rights left in Congress.
In 2020, Lipinski’s luck in the city ran out, coming out of the wards thousands of needed votes short. He got about 56% of the city vote in 2018 to just under 50% in 2020.
Newman won the 11th Ward — the Daley family turf — which she lost in 2018. Lipinski vastly underperformed in the 13th Ward — ruled by House Speaker Mike Madigan — and the 23rd Ward — once run by his father, an old-style Chicago machine ward boss.
Newman is overwhelmingly favored to win in November over GOP nominee Mike Fricilone, a Will County Board member.
The defeat marks the end of an era.
In 2004, Dan’s father, former Rep. Bill Lipinski — then also the 23rd Ward ward boss and close Madigan ally — fixed the politics so his son, then an assistant professor of political science at the University of Tennessee, could move to the district and inherit his seat.
Bill Lipinski represented the Southwest Side of Chicago and a swath of southwest suburbs in the House between Jan. 3, 1983, and Jan. 3, 2005, passing the baton to his son.
Lipinski also becomes the first incumbent House Democrat in the 2020 cycle to lose a primary.
While other issues were in play in 2020 — especially health insurance — the abortion issue always loomed over the race. A coalition of abortion rights and progressive groups jumped in early to help Newman’s comeback bid. Lipinski ended up being outspent.
At the end of February, the coalition announced a $1.4 million independent expenditure drive. Those groups include NARAL Pro-Choice America, SEIU, Emily’s List affiliated, WOMEN VOTE!, Indivisible, Planned Parenthood Votes and the Illinois Federation of Teachers.
Lipinski’s steadfast opposition to abortion has been a career hallmark. He was also attacked for his initial vote against Obamacare. A major legislative focus of Lipinski’s has been transportation issues.
“I’m not going to go into all those issues right now that I think will define my legacy as a member of Congress,” Lipinski said. “But there was one issue that loomed especially large in this campaign, the fact that I am pro-life.
“I was pilloried and millions of dollars of TV ads and mailers. Because of this, I was shunned by many of my colleagues and other Democratic Party members and operators. I was shunned because of my pro-life stance.”
“The pressure in (the) Democratic Party on the life issue has never been as great as it is now.”
Newman’s win provides a boost nationally to progressives challenging incumbents from the left. Newman’s high-profile endorsers included Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Newman’s victory is also a rebuke to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chaired by Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., which backs incumbents.
Bustos called Newman on Wednesday to congratulate her.
END OF THE LIPINSKI ERA: THE SWITCHEROO
In 2004, Lipinski installed his son, Dan, as his successor using political sleight-of-hand, a controversy that dogged Dan through his congressional career and which he worked hard to overcome.
Bill Lipinski easily won renomination in the 2004 congressional primary. I reported at the time he was plotting to hand his seat to his son. A few months later, the plot unfolded. Bill Lipinski set the stage for Dan to return to Chicago from Tennessee, where he was an assistant professor of political science at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, to claim the seat.
Bill Lipinski simply withdrew his candidacy and then quickly huddled with the ward bosses in the congressional districts to name Dan as the replacement nominee.
Since Bill Lipinski’s pals controlled the replacement process — former Cook County Assessor Tom Hynes, the 19th Ward chief, whose son Dan was then the state comptroller; House Speaker Michael Madigan, the 13th Ward boss whose daughter Lisa was then the state’s attorney general; and Cook County Board member John Daley from the 11th Ward, with family members in various government jobs — it was an done deal.
Bill Lipinski completed his term and was succeeded by Dan Lipinski.
FOOTNOTE: The 3rd Congressional District includes portions of what’s left of Chicago’s machine wards: 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 18th, 19th, 20th, 22nd and 23rd and then connects with a narrow thread of turf to southwestern suburbs in parts of Cook County and small portions of DuPage and Will counties. In Cook County, that includes the townships of Berwyn, Cicero, Lemont, Lyons, Orland, Palos, Riverside, Stickney and Worth and in Will County, the townships of DuPage, Homer, Joliet and Lockport.