CHICAGO — U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, a pro-life Democrat from Illinois who co-chairs the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, is in the crosshairs of the abortion lobby and party activists who say there is no room for pro-lifers in the Democratic Party.
Political action committees (PACs) associated with groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America have raised tens of thousands of dollars to support Marie Newman, Lipinski’s primary opponent in the 3rd Congressional District of Illinois. Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has so far decided not to publicly support Lipinski, while liberal congressional members from Illinois have already endorsed Newman.
That Lipinski is being attacked for his views on abortion by members of his own party is disheartening to pro-life activists and Democrats who have worked with Lipinski over the years.
“Dan is a great Democrat. If you look at his record, he has an almost 100% voting record with labor, almost a 100% lifetime with the education lobby, a 100% rating with the environmental lobby and a 7% lifetime voting record with the NRA,” said Kristen Day, president of Democrats for Life of America.
Day told the Register that the abortion lobby is “killing” her party, and she argued it “makes no sense” for fellow Democrats to be attacking an incumbent in a safe “blue” district when the party is at risk of losing seats in other congressional districts.
“We’re supposed to be the big tent, the inclusive party, and we’re not it right now,” Day said. “Some are saying, ‘You can disagree with us on anything, but if you’re pro-life, we don’t want you.’ That’s not what our party is supposed to be about.”
Ralph Rivera, the chairman of Illinois Citizens for Life Federal PAC, told the Register that Lipinski over the years has sponsored pro-life legislation, has attended Illinois Citizens for Life banquet dinners and “gone the extra mile” to support the pro-life movement.
“Unfortunately, there are very few pro-life Democrats left in the U.S. House of Representatives,” Rivera said. “You never want any of them to be lost.”
Newman, a former advertising executive who became an advocate for anti-bullying and gun-control measures, and her allies see Lipinski as being out-of-step in a deep blue district that Hillary Clinton won by 15 points in the 2016 general election and that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders carried in that election cycle’s primaries.
The district — located in a working-class area on the southwest side of Chicago and its surrounding suburbs — is seen as such a safe seat for the Democrats that Republicans declined to recruit a serious candidate to run against Lipinski. That has left the GOP’s nomination to Arthur Jones, a Holocaust denier.
Lipinski’s father, Bill Lipinski, a former Chicago alderman, represented the district from 1982 to 2004, before local Democrats handed the nomination to his son. Over the years, progressive party activists unsuccessfully sought to challenge Lipinski, but many believe they have finally found their candidate in Newman.
Lipinski “doesn’t have true Democratic values, and his record proves it,” Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America political action committee, said in a recent email to donors, The Washington Post reported.
“This isn’t some deep-red district. This district is solid blue,” Hogue wrote. “The seat has been held by a Democrat for 58 out of the last 60 years. Yet Lipinski votes more like a right-wing Republican.”
In addition to his pro-life views, Lipinski is also a co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of centrist Democrats in the House. He was one of the few Democrats who voted against the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, and who later demanded pro-life amendments. He has long opposed same-sex “marriage,” as well as federal legislation to grant legal status to “Dreamers,” people who were brought illegally to the United States as children. Lipinski has since said he now supports a bill to grant status to shield “Dreamers” from deportation.
With Newman receiving national media attention and PAC money, and polling indicating that she is cutting into Lipinski’s lead in the primary, two of Lipinski’s Democratic colleagues from Illinois — U.S. Reps. Luis Gutierrez and Jan Schakowsky — endorsed Newman at a mid-January news conference in Washington.
“I assure you that this district is overwhelmingly pro-choice,” said Schakowsky, who asked why the Chicago district was still represented by a man who opposes abortion. Gutierrez suggested that the nation “has moved forward” from congressmen like Lipinski.
“He would be all right in Congress in 1996,” Gutierrez said.
The attacks on Lipinski from within his own party have disappointed pro-life Democrats, while mobilizing support from groups such as Catholic Vote and the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, which has bundled more than $40,000 for Lipinski’s campaign, according to The Washington Post.
Catholic Vote is also helping to raise campaign funds for Lipinski and warning voters that replacing him “with a rubber stamp for the abortion lobby is a bad idea.”
Joshua Mercer, political director of Catholic Vote, told the Register that he had not seen much support for Lipinski from Catholic “liberals.”
“I can’t help but wonder: Where is the Catholic left?” Mercer said. “All these pro-life Catholic liberals? Are they donating? Writing about it? Giving any air support for Dan?”
Charles Camosy, a moral theologian from Fordham University, who sits on Democrats for Life of America’s board of directors, told the Register that the Democratic Party’s isolation of pro-life and moderate voices is “a recipe for continuing to lose, and lose badly.”
“Even in the time of Trump, a very unpopular president, the approval rating of the Democratic Party is below 30%. Republicans have gained hundreds and hundreds of legislative seats and governorships in recent years,” Camosy said.
Said Camosy, “I can’t tell you how many Republicans I know today who said they used to be Democrats and then say, “I didn’t leave the party — the party left me.’”
Day, of Democrats for Life, said it was “ridiculous” to suggest pro-life Democrats are not really Democrats.
“I would say that we are the real Democrats,” Day said. “We support those who need assistance at all stages. The other so-called Democrats that support killing unborn children, that’s not consistent with our Democratic values at all.”
Day said an upcoming Democrats for Life conference this summer will have as its theme “I Want My Party Back.”
“I think it’s going to be our largest conference ever because people are so upset,” Day said. “There has been a certain level of frustration to see our numbers fall so much; but I think when you look at the people on the ground, the grassroots, it’s amazing, and it provides some optimism for me.”
Rivera, of the Illinois Citizens for Life Federal PAC, said the 3rd Congressional District still has many blue-collar working people who share Lipinski’s pro-life values. Lipinski’s campaign website boasts endorsements from several local unions, mayors and other elected officials. And March 1, he acquired the backing of one prominent national Democratic leader, when Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., replied to a question about whether she supported him with an unequivocal, “Yes, I do.”
Though outside groups like NARAL are raising substantial amounts of money to defeat him, Rivera thinks Lipinski will hold off his primary challenger.
Said Rivera, “I would be surprised if he didn’t win this nicely.”
Register correspondent Brian Fraga writes from Fall River, Massachusetts