The Associated Press has just called the primary race in Illinois’ third congressional district for pro-life Democratic congressman Dan Lipinski, who narrowly defeated his progressive challenger Marie Newman.
Lipinski has represented the district in the U.S. House for over a decade, but this year’s primary threat from Newman — which was a nail-biter even as the last votes trickled in — gained traction as the result of his moderate stances on a handful of political issues, most notably abortion.
His win tonight was likely aided by his high name recognition in the district — Lipinski’s father, Bill, represented the same district for ten years before passing the seat along to his son in 2004 — and his continuing popularity with moderate voters who tend to favor Democrats because of their support for labor unions.
Newman’s campaign was buoyed in particular by abortion-rights groups such as Planned Parenthood and NARAL, both of which have grown increasingly frustrated with Lipinski’s consistently pro-life voting record, especially as the rest of his party has grown more willing to support unlimited abortion-on-demand. Newman also received vocal support from progressive Democrats, including Senators Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.), along with Illinois representatives Jan Schakowsky and Luis Gutierrez.
Lipinski’s victory tonight is a win for the notion that Democratic politicians can be pro-life and survive within a party that’s swiftly becoming more radical on the issue — an important victory for the notion that defending innocent human life need not be a matter of purely partisan politics.
Still, he remains one of only a handful of Democrats in Congress willing to vote for anti-abortion legislation such as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act or the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. So while the efforts of pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List — whose volunteers knocked on more than 25,000 doors for Lipinski in the third district over this past weekend — were surely worthwhile, in the big-picture abortion debate, it’s a very small win, indeed.
Aside from possible ramifications for the pro-life movement, tonight’s results bode ill for the Democratic party, both this election cycle and beyond. While it might be seen as a sign of strength to field two candidates capable of receiving broad support, Newman’s ability to mount a nearly successful primary challenge of a six-term incumbent — with the assistance of prominent pro-abortion groups and progressive politicians — is a sign of growing dissatisfaction in the party’s more left-wing quarters with the agenda of establishment Democrats. That tension will surely be evident in the midterms this year and could very well weaken the party long-term if left unresolved.