Marie Newman ‘Can’t Walk Away’ From Second Chance to Unseat Anti-Choice Democrat in Illinois

Marie Newman, an unabashed supporter of reproductive rights, is set to once again challenge one of the last anti-choice congressional Democrats.

[Photo: Marie Newman speaks during an interview.]
“I think that what’s important to know about this race is that this will come down to folks that want a real Democrat who votes like a Democrat, and that has real plans and has articulated the plan and not just put them on a website,” Newman said. Chicago Sun-Times / YouTube

U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, who represents Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District and is one of the last anti-choice congressional Democrats, doesn’t understand “everyday basics,” according to Marie Newman. That’s why she’s jumping in to again challenge him in the district’s Democratic primary.

Lipinski didn’t back the Equality Act and voted against the Affordable Care Act (ACA). He “doesn’t believe health care is a right,” she said. “He clearly just doesn’t like equality, period,” Newman told Rewire.News. “So with all of that, I can’t walk away from it. I have to run again.”

Newman on Tuesday announced her challenge to Lipinski, hoping to win a shot at his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives after being narrowly defeated in a 2018 primary. In her announcement on Twitter, Newman said the district “needs a representative who won’t sell out working families by siding with corporate special interests.” Another candidate, Abe Matthew, has also said he will run in the primary.

On her website, Newman describes herself as the granddaughter of labor union members who worked her way through college at Marquette University with a work-study job cleaning up after Food Services. She has since founded a national nonprofit to address bullying, and, according to her bio, has “also served as a state and national advocate for health care rights, income equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and common-sense gun safety.”

Speaking with Rewire.News, Newman said that the issues that matter most to voters in her district involve “everybody’s every day.” That means, “[If] I’m having to work two jobs right now to just make enough money…and then I still have to pay for childcare, how am I going to get my kids cared for? How am I going to ultimately own my own home or how am I going to pay for transportation?”

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, ‘You know what Marie, when we sit down at the end of the month and have to pay bills, sometimes we have to play Russian roulette with bills and decide, OK, am I’m going to pay for my prescriptions…or am I going to pay for the rent?’ And we shouldn’t have to make those decisions under any circumstances,” she said.

Lipinski, whose campaign did not answer an interview request from Rewire.News, has cultivated an image in Congress as a centrist since he was first elected in 2004 to a seat previously held by his father. He describes himself as having provided “commonsense Democratic” leadership and is a member of the Blue Dog Democrats—a coalition of so-called moderate Democrats in Congress.

But his record tells a more conservative story. Lipinski opposes a $15 minimum wage, is one of less than a handful of Democrats left in Congress who didn’t vote for the ACA, and breaks from the party when it comes to LGBTQ rights. According to Roll Call, Lipinski “said last year that while he remains personally opposed to gay marriage, he will no longer allow that position to affect his votes because it is ‘the law of the land.’” The Illinois lawmaker earned a 57 on the Human Rights Campaign’s congressional scorecard in 2016, giving him, according to the organization, “the dubious distinction of being the worst scoring Democratic in the House and Senate. The average score for Democratic representatives is 96.” (The Human Rights Campaign endorsed Newman in the 2018 race.)

Lipinski has been a vocal opponent of abortion rights. He co-chaired the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, serves as an advisor for the anti-choice group Democrats for Life, and has repeatedly spoken at the annual March for Life rally in Washington, D.C. As one of the few anti-choice Democrats in Congress, Lipinski has often been one of the members of his party to sign onto anti-choice legislation. Those include a bill to ban abortion at 20 weeks past fertilization, and more recently, a GOP discharge petition that attempted to force a floor vote on an anti-choice measure. He has also co-sponsored measures to codify the Hyde Amendment, an anti-choice budget rider passed annually by Congress that bans federal funding for abortion care.

In 2018, during an event for Law of Life, Lipinski said that “science tells us life begins at conception”—language in line with so-called personhood rhetoric, which could classify fertilized eggs, zygotes, embryos, and fetuses as legal “persons” and lead to the criminalization of abortion and some forms of contraception. Lipinski argues his votes in favor of funding the Title X family-planning program are evidence of his support for birth control, but “under Trump, he voted with Republicans to shred the program’s safeguards,” as Rewire.News reported. Lipinski also opposed the ACA’s birth control benefit, which mandates that insurers provide contraception coverage without copays.

And in a letter to the Trump administration in 2018, Lipinski called for Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar to put in place restrictions on Title X through a policy referred to by pro-choice advocates at the domestic “gag rule.” The policy, since finalized by the administration, would effectively force Planned Parenthood—which serves 41 percent of Title X patients—out of the federal family planning program.

Newman’s position on reproductive rights stands in stark contrast to Lipinski’s. “I am pro-choice and I trust women, and it’s just really stark and basic,” she said. “I believe that women should have complete jurisdiction over their own bodies.” When it comes to the Hyde Amendment, Newman said she believes “reproductive care is health care,” adding that “I believe that if you cannot afford your own abortion…the government should pay for it.”

If elected, she said she would sign on to measures to abolish the anti-choice restriction on federal funding for abortion, but noted that she “would prioritize protecting Roe v. Wade before I did anything else because that has to be protected.”

What’s Next: A Look Ahead Toward 2020

Within a day of Newman announcing her decision to run, she picked up a high-profile endorsement from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), one of the Democrats running for the 2020 presidential nomination. Gillibrand threw her support behind Newman during an appearance at a Democratic Party event in Chicago. “She’s got a tough race in front of her, but I promise you, Marie will represent her district better, and she will represent all of us better,” said Gillibrand, according to the Washington Post.

It wasn’t the first time the New York senator jumped into the IL-03 primary. Newman told Rewire.News that Gillibrand “was the first federal politician that endorsed” her in the 2018 race. When Gillibrand again wanted to offer her backing, Newman said she “jumped at the chance.”

“I feel very good about her platform syncing up with mine. I’m very proud of that endorsement,” she said.

During the 2018 primary, Newman received some other notable endorsements from members of the U.S. Congress, including Illinois Democratic Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Luis Gutierrez, as well as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Progressive and pro-choice groups rallied around Newman that election cycle, as she earned endorsements from groups including NARAL Pro-Choice America, MoveOn.org, Democracy for America, the Progressive Campaign Change Committee, Planned Parenthood, and EMILY’s List.

Newman said the campaign is now “working very hard and we’ve had very positive discussions with” many of the groups who had endorsed her in the last election cycle, but that she doesn’t “make any assumptions for any reason, you have to work towards those things.”

While it hasn’t issued an endorsement, the Progressive Campaign Change Committee (PCCC), has already begun fundraising for Newman in emails to the organization’s supporters. Marissa Barrow, a spokesperson for the PCCC, told Rewire.News that Lipinski is “against so many popular populist policies in a district that Hillary Clinton won by 15 points,” pointing to the representative’s stances on issues such as abortion rights and a $15 minimum wage.

Barrow noted that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s (DCCC) decision to “blacklist” strategists and vendors that work with challengers to incumbent Democrats may also lead progressive groups to keep a close eye on the race.

“It’s definitely going to make it more challenging for the next round of candidates like Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez—and Marie Newman now—to be able to challenge those incumbent Democrats who no longer represent the will of the people in their districts,” Barrow said. The blacklist is “going to be a significant factor in this race and it’s going to be a significant factor in races across the country to try to elect inspiring bold progressive candidates,” she said.

The DCCC did not respond to a request for comment.

Other groups that endorsed Newman in the race say they’re watching the primary race in IL-03 and others like it closely. “Voters in the 3rd Congressional District deserve a representative who reflects their values and will champion their rights and freedoms,” NARAL Pro-Choice America Vice President Adrienne Kimmell said in a statement to Rewire.News. “Dan Lipinski falls far short of that mark. Marie Newman was a formidable challenger in 2018 and NARAL has a keen interest in holding and growing the pro-choice majority in the U.S. House. We will be looking closely at all races in which anti-choice members stand in the way of that goal.”

Ben Ray, a spokesperson for EMILY’s List, similarly noted that the organization would be keeping tabs on the district. “We’re keeping a close eye on this race, and are really excited at the prospect of getting a woman in this seat who will be a strong pro-choice advocate for women and families,” Ray said in an email.

Democracy for America is also watching the race “extremely closely,” according to Neil Sroka, the organization’s communications director. “We think that [Newman] was an exceptionally strong candidate [in 2018] and we continue to believe that Dan Lipinski’s presence in the Democratic caucus is a tragedy for the Democratic Party,” he said.

Newman, when asked why she believes she’ll be successful in the primary this time around, said “bunches of things” have changed. “We have spent the last year working very hard, broadening the coalition,” she said, adding that the campaign had “worked in all of the communities” to garner support, working “up and down the line grassroots to grasstops built stronger relationships.”

And this time, Newman said, she believes she will benefit from her race against Lipinski coinciding with the Democratic presidential primary. “In a presidential primary, there are more folks that vote and then there are more progressive folks that vote and then there are more younger people,” Newman said.

“I think that what’s important to know about this race is that this will come down to folks that want a real Democrat who votes like a Democrat, and that has real plans and has articulated the plan and not just put them on a website. I have a real plan to work with real people on real things. I don’t just talk about helping the middle class or talk about creating an economy that’s fair for everybody or supporting workers in unions—I actually do it.”

UPDATE: This piece has been updated to note that the Human Rights Campaign endorsed Marie Newman in the 2018 race.