WASHINGTON — Dan Lipinski should be thrilled.
The anti-abortion policy agenda he’s fought for ever since he inherited his seat in Congress in 2005 is marching through state legislatures. In the last month alone, governors in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, and Louisiana have all signed laws functionally outlawing abortion.
But Lipinski isn’t basking in the spotlight. As one of the last anti-abortion Democrats in Congress, the success of abortion bans across country could soon put him out of a job.
“This type of legislation is authoritarian and totalitarian. There’s no other way to describe it,” Marie Newman, the Chicago businessperson now mounting her second bid to send Lipinski home, said in an interview with BuzzFeed News Thursday. “Let’s be honest about what it is. It’s taking us back 100 years, and that’s not exaggerating.”
Even as abortion rights have become dogma for the Democratic Party, Lipinski has held on to his seat, facing only token opposition in election after election and enjoying the backing of his party. That changed last year, when Newman came within two points of beating him. And while the party establishment still formally supports him, as the abortion debate rages across the country, the cracks are starting show.
Lipinski was thrust into the limelight earlier this month when news got out that Rep. Cheri Bustos, the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and a fellow member of the Illinois delegation, would be appearing at a fundraiser for him. Activists flipped. Bustos pulled out.
“I’m proud to have a 100 percent pro-choice voting record and I’m deeply alarmed by the rapidly escalating attacks on women’s access to reproductive care in several states,” Bustos said in a statement when she canceled her appearance.
But, she reiterated, despite no longer attending the fundraiser, the DCCC was standing behind Lipinski, like all incumbents, and believes in a “big tent Democratic caucus.”
“Every dollar spent trying to defeat one of our Democratic incumbents is a dollar that we cannot spend defeating Republicans,” she noted. It was, without naming her, a pointed warning to Newman.
The Lipinski campaign did not respond to BuzzFeed News’ requests for comment about the onslaught of recent anti-abortion legislation by the time of publication, but following Bustos’s decision to pull out of the fundraiser, the congressman told the New York Times that he knew Bustos was in an “incredibly difficult spot” and said he didn’t blame her.
Lipinski complained, however, that “there are people in the party who are not tolerant” and said the disavowal of anti-abortion Democrats was “how we got President Trump — people felt like they weren’t welcome in the party.”
Lipinski has long been one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress. In 2012, he declined to endorse former president Barack Obama for reelection and, during Obama’s first term, voted against the Affordable Care Act, the former president’s signature policy achievement.
He also voted against the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman. More recently, he was the sole House Democrat who did not cosponsor the Equality Act, an LGBTQ civil rights bill introduced in March, though he did ultimately vote in favor of it.
In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Newman pulled no punches, calling her opponent anti-worker, anti-woman, and anti–middle class.
“He is no better than many of the Republicans out there,” she said. “ … He is so one-issue focused [on anti-abortion issues], it affects all of his decision-making. He’s preoccupied night and day by it.”
After word got out that Bustos would be fundraising for Lipinski, Newman told a group of supporters at an event that she’s spoken with the chair, as the Times reported, and said she told Bustos she didn’t want “war” but that she would not back down.
But the DCCC is already firing shots. In March, the committee announced that it wouldn’t work with any vendor who worked with primary challengers, and Newman quickly lost four of her consultants.
Despite the blacklist, many progressive and abortion rights groups, including Planned Parenthood Action Fund, EMILY’s List, NARAL Pro-Choice America, MoveOn, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, and Democracy for America, have rallied around Newman, endorsing her en masse earlier this month.
“Dan Lipinski is dangerously out of touch, and has time and time again refused to stand up for basic values like reproductive freedom, LGBTQ equality, and economic opportunity for every family,” NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said in a release when the organization endorsed.
Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee have also endorsed Newman.
Regardless of the national focus on abortion rights, there are local issues that still lean solidly in Lipinski’s favor.
“Chicago is the transportation hub of the nation, and from the very first day [Lipinski] was in Congress, he has been on the transportation committee and has focused like a laser on that issue,” Thomas Bowen, a top Democratic strategist in Chicago, said in an interview with BuzzFeed News. “The trade guys care less about some social issues than others. … Are they out of touch with national issues? A little bit, sure, but they’re focused on the bread-and-butter issues.”
Brendon Remezas, the co-chair of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) Illinois and Indiana state conference and a constituent of Lipinski’s, sung the congressman’s praises in an interview with BuzzFeed News Friday and said he too expects the trade unions to boost Lipinski’s reelection.
Lipinski, Remezas said, has long been a “good friend of labor,” and though the TWU hasn’t officially endorsed him, Remezas made it clear the union doesn’t intend to turn their backs on him, pointing to the work he’s done on the FAA Reauthorization Act and pushing for 10-hour rest rules for flight attendants.
The union certainly thinks about social issues, Remezas said, and the way they’ll affect their workers, many of whom are women. But many of them, especially his constituents in the heavily Catholic district, he said, have no problem with Lipinski’s abortion stance.
Even with those endorsements, Newman very nearly beat Lipinski in 2018, losing by just about 2%. She told BuzzFeed News Thursday that she never discusses campaign strategy, but she did tell the Chicago Sun-Times after her loss in 2018 that she planned to campaign in the Chicago wards that are part of the district more often.
So far, this time around, she has managed to outraise Lipinski, raising $209,962 to his $127,343 in the first quarter.
But Newman isn’t going to get the one-on-one matchup with Lipinski she certainly would’ve preferred, as a third challenger, Chicago attorney Abe Matthew, has also entered the race. The pair could ultimately split the progressive vote — Matthew is also running on a platform pushing for Medicare for All and the Green New Deal — and could leave Lipinski as perhaps the House’s last anti-abortion Democrat left standing.
“He reflects his district’s demographics really well,” Remezas said of Lipinski. “Just in general, he’s just a nice guy.”
Abe Matthew's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this post.