The anticipation in the air at a craft brewry on Chicago’s South Side hung thick, almost as thick as the river of beer that flowed at Marz Community Taproom and Kitchen. The brewery played home to the campaign party on election night for first time Democratic challenger Marie Newman, who went up against incumbent Dan Lipinski in the primary election for the House seat in Illinois’ 3rd District.
Newman’s supporters began packing the venue at 7:00pm, and quickly filled the room to capacity – with a huge chunk of the bar carved out for both local and national press – as the race between one of the Democratic party’s most conservative members and a progressive challenger, was one of the most bitterly contested.
Even after many of the other primary races had been called, the margin between Newman and Lipinski remained razor thin. Several times throughout the evening, volunteers and representatives of organizations like NARAL Pro-Choice America and the Human Rights Campaign – who heavily backed Newman – addressed the crowd saying they would remain until every vote was counted. Supporters and volunteers were glued to their phones, laptops, and a big screen television broadcasting live results from the Chicago Sun-Times, which at one point showed the results flipping from 51 percent to 49 percent for Lipinski, to Newman’s favor. Cries and cheers echoed through the bar.
— Aaron Cynic (@aaroncynic) March 21, 2018
Sometime after 10:00pm, Newman finally took the stage to address her supporters.
“So…interesting evening,” she began. We are not quite ready to make a decision. It is this close,” adding that she would “like Mr. Lipinski to have a very painful evening.”
— Aaron Cynic (@aaroncynic) March 21, 2018
The race was the first time Lipinski – one of a handful of “blue dog” Democrats, who opposes abortion rights, voted against Obamacare and the DREAM Act, and has a history of opposing LGBTQ rights – faced a serious challenge since he first one the seat in 2004 after his father, who held the seat since 1983, stepped down. Newman – a marketing professional who formed a nationwide coalition of anti-bullying nonprofits, and worked with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America – appeared at first to be a longshot.
Throughout the race, Lipinski held fast that his voting record was in line with his constituent base. “My voting record is very much in line with my district,” Lipinski told The Hill in November. “You can never please everybody. I try to do my best in that regard in representing my constituents.” As election day drew nearer, the Congressman attempted to stoke the fears of centrist and right-leaning Democrats, warning of an alleged “tea party of the left,” a scare tactic increasingly used by conservative elements in the party that appears to be more interested in protecting their own seats and appeasing Republicans than it does acknowledging a loud and growing movement of Democrats attempting to halt a push further rightward.
“Right now there is a battle for what the Democratic Party is going to be, going forward,” Lipinski told WGN-AM 720 radio on March 5th. “Four years ago we were at our lowest point in the U.S. House since Herbert Hoover was president. We’ve come up slightly since then, but we’re still in a big hole, and there are those who want to have a ‘tea party of the left’ in the Democratic Party to match, unfortunately, what’s happened to the Republicans.”
Both campaigns received major financial and field support from large issue based groups and unions. Lipinski was backed by the AFL-CIO, United Steelworkers, unions for the Chicago Police and Fire Departments, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31. Newman recieved support from women’s rights organizations like the National Organization for Women, NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and EMILY’s List, as well as backing from progressive groups like Our Revolution and Indivisible Chicago, along with the Service Employees International Union. Several high-profile local and national politicians also openly backed Newman, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, and Illinois Congressman Luis Gutiérrez. While the DCCC didn’t formally endorse Lipinski, he received a tacist endorsement from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
And while Lipinski campaigned on a boilerplate agenda of banal euphamisms about big tents and “bread-and-butter issues that people really care about,” Newman’s campaign focused on her support for what normally should be Democratic values that people really do care about – support for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, a $15 an hour minimum wage, Medicare for all, immigrant rights, and even reversing the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision – all issues that Democrats both liberal and center generally support.
“After reviewing the results, we know that we lost by a thin margin,” Newman said in a statement Wednesday morning, which echoed comments she made to supporters the night before at her campaign party. “Since we started our campaign, Dan Lipinski has moved his position on healthcare, a path to citizenship, and the need for a fair minimum wage. We put him on notice that we expect better for all of the people in our district.”
In a horrifying twist, Lipinski goes on to face a candidate as far right as one can possibly be, an actual Holocaust denying Nazi. Arthur Jones, who ran unopposed on the Republican ticket, was an actual member of the American Nazi Party, has appeared at events wearing swastikas, and is currently running on an openly bigoted and fascist platform.
Organizations that supported Newman say that Lipinski’s narrow victory of just over 2,000 votes should be a wake up call to him.
“A politician who has fought against the rights of LGBTQ people, women, and immigrants for more than a decade in Congress went from a 24 point lead to barely holding on to his job,” said HRC Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs JoDee Winterhof. “Now, our task is to continue holding him accountable. The people of Illinois want and deserve a representative in Congress who will stand up for their fundamental rights – not undermine them and rubber stamp the Trump-Pence agenda.”
Indeed, Newman’s insurgent campaign should be a wake up call to both centrist and right-leaning Democrats. The more willing they are to capitulate to the right’s agenda – which in the age of Trump has become increasingly authoritarian with a push to roll back hard fought civil and human rights – the more willing and organized a real resistance will become, which will be sure to leave the incumbents behind.