'Ground Zero for pro-life Democrats': The fight for Dan Lipinski's seat

shutterstock 1661620633 Chicago, Illinois/USA - March 2, 2020: A sign for early voting in the primary elections. / Mary at T-Comms/Shutterstock

As national pro-abortion groups pour money into a Chicago primary race to unseat one of the last pro-life Democrats in Congress, pro-life groups say they will be fighting back.

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), an eight-term Catholic pro-life congressman, narrowly defeated pro-abortion primary challenger Marie Newman in a contentious 2018 race in the safely-Democratic district, but now he faces a rematch with a campaign backed by outside pro-abortion groups.

Newman, a Catholic Democrat who supports taxpayer-funded abortion and criticized Lipinski in 2019 for not supporting the Equality Act, raised more than $1.4 million in the 2018 race while focusing on Lipinski's pro-life record. Having lost to Lipinski last time, she is now eyeing a victory in a 2020 rematch.

During the 2020 cycle, Newman's campaign has received direct contributions from the pro-abortion groups such as the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), Planned Parenthood, and EMILY's List, a group that works to get pro-abortion women elected to offices around the country.

According to filings with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), EMILY's List made the maximum-allowable $5,000 contribution to Newman's campaign, and in addition has earmarked more than $90,000 in contributions to Newman's campaign from individuals all over the country.

On Feb. 24, a coalition of pro-abortion groups announced a $1.4 million investment in the race to unseat the "Anti-Choice, Anti-Obamacare" Lipinski. The "independent expenditure" campaign includes direct mail, and both television and digital ads, and is backed by pro-abortion groups including NARAL, EMILY's List, and Planned Parenthood.

Lipinski told CNA in early January that he had hoped for more support from pro-life groups in a tough primay battle.

"I've gotten some support from pro-life groups, but honestly, not as much as I'd like to see," Lipinski told CNA on Jan. 9.

Now in early March, less than two weeks before the March 17 Illinois Democratic primary, pro-life groups say they will be supporting the embattled Democrat.  

FEC filings show that Lipinski's campaign has received the maximum $5,000 from the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, in December. There are no records of direct contributions from other pro-life groups Democrats for Life of America and National Right to Life.

SBA List also told CNA that they are "bundling" for Lipinski, a practice of collecting various individual donations and orchestrating for them to be sent to the campaign all at once as part of a bundle.

Meanwhile, Democrats for Life of America (DFLA) told CNA they will be working with around 10 to 15 volunteers from the group Students for Life, to canvass for Lipinski in his district in the days leading up to the vote.

Lipinski's primary race is "ground zero for pro-life Democrats," Kristen Day, executive director of DFLA, told CNA, "because he has just been so, just attacked by our own party, and really just disrespected."

Some of the group's members have donated to his campaign, Day said, but "there's not as much pro-life Democrat money as there is pro-abortion money."

National Right to Life political director Karen Cross told CNA that the group does not contribute directly to candidates, but rather makes "independent expenditures" such as direct mail campaigns.

NRLC does not usually get involved in primaries, she said, but has made an exception for Lipinski whom they have endorsed and previously supported in 2018.

The group has sent mail to "thousands of pro-life supporters in the district," while "encouraging them to support him [Lipinski] in this primary," Cross told CNA.

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"Marie Newman is a hardcore, unlimited-abortion-through-birth" candidate, Cross said, noting the difficulty of finding other pro-life Democratic candidates down ballot.

"You've got extreme pro-abortion activists actively working in primaries to get a pro-abortion candidate," she said. "They're spending, together, almost a couple hundred million dollars in elections to get these candidates through."

The group CatholicVote.org also said it will support Lipinski. According to records on OpenSecrets.org, the group's candidate fund made $7,168 in independent expenditures for Lipinski in the 2018 election cycle.

"Dan Lipinski is a pro-environment and pro-labor Democrat. He's been an outstanding friend of the unborn," stated Joshua Mercer, editor of The Loop at CatholicVote.org.

His pro-life stance "drives the abortion lobby crazy," Mercer said, which is why pro-choice groups have rallied behind Newman, "their 'mini AOC'," referring to freshman progressive Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) who has endorsed Newman.

However, in the face of millions of dollars in negative ads, pro-life supporters of Lipinski will have their work cut out for them before March 17.

Unlike in 2018, Newman is reportedly shying away from emphasizing abortion in her challange this year-she apparently instructed reporters in a 2019 interview that they could only ask one abortion-related question, and clarified that "[t]his campaign is about the income divide, paid leave, Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, transportation, and infrastructure jobs, period."

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At the same time, while not talking openly about faith in interviews, she has referenced her Catholic upbringing in recent online ads to emphasize her roots in the heavily-Catholic district.

In one ad, Newman says she was born at Little Company of Mary Hospital in the Evergreen Park neighborhood of south side Chicago, and baptized at nearby St. Barnabas Parish-"just a real south side girl," she is called in the ad.

In another video ad, two Catholic religious sisters gave their endorsement of Newman. Sister JoAnn Persch and Sister Pat Murphy, two Sisters of Mercy based in Chicago, said they would support Newman because of her "incredible power to listen" and because of her presence in the district.

Newman is "touting her Catholic upbringing in an attempt to mask her radical anti-Catholic agenda," Mercer stated, saying that despite her efforts to snag the endorsements of nuns she "will become a rubber stamp for the radical left-wing."

"That's why these groups are pouring millions into this District," Mercer said of outside pro-abortion groups.

"CatholicVote knows this District well. We helped Dan come up big in 2018, and we're working overtime to bring him to victory again," he said.

The hostility to Lipinski from within his own party is yet more evidence of the party's leftward lurch on abortion, pro-life advocates said.

"I think we're finally really forcing this issue to the surface within the Democratic Party," said Terrisa Bukovinac, founder and executive director of Pro-Life San Francisco and a co-leader of Secular Pro-Life.

Bukovinac identifies as an atheist and a Democrat who is "whole life." Pro-lifers in the Democratic Party "had a place at the table" for a while, she said, "but it was almost just like lip-service, to keep us in line."

Now, however, presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders and DNC chair Tom Perez are saying there is no more room in the party for pro-lifers.

"We see in the 2019 Marist poll that everyone keeps referencing that the majority of Democrats actually want abortion restrictions, but we've had the most extreme leadership we've ever had," she said.

The staunch abortion support of progressive candidates such as Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders show the desperation of the abortion lobby, she said.

"We want to break that relationship between the abortion industry and the Democratic Party that is the pillar of power for the abortion industry," she said. 

"Once pro-life Democrats really take that power and stop giving aid in the form of a direct vote, we will be able to transform our party."