“I’m J.B. Pritzker, and I’m going to beat Bruce Rauner,” the newly-minted Democratic nominee declared jauntily in the first words of his victory speech on Tuesday night.
Across statewide, federal, and local races on Tuesday, the Illinois campaigns featured a bit of everything.
There was Pritzker, the establishment-aligned billionaire, trying to hold off both a Kennedy scion and Biss, a younger liberal running under the Bernie Sanders banner. There was Rauner, the wounded Republican governor who nearly lost renomination for a second term to a conservative state legislator. In congressional races, a pair of women emerged from hard-fought Democratic primaries to take on vulnerable male Republican incumbents in general elections that could help determine control of the House. And in the state’s third congressional district, an energized coalition of progressives backing first-time candidate Marie Newman nearly—but not quite—toppled one of the most conservative Democrats in the House, Representative Dan Lipinski.
With most of the ballots counted, Lipinski led Newman by just 1,600 votes, or 1.8 percent. Newman initially wasn’t ready to concede after the increasingly bitter campaign, however, telling her supporters late Tuesday that she wanted Lipinski “to have a very painful night.” But she acknowledged the loss “by a thin margin” in a statement Wednesday morning, claiming credit for pushing Lipinski to the left on certain issues and vowing to “hold him accountable” going forward.
Newman’s defeat was a disappointment for progressive groups and particularly for groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America and EMILY’s List, which had hoped to punish one of the last remaining anti-abortion Democrats in Congress and make a statement on the party’s commitment to a woman’s right to choose.
For Lipinski, the primary battle was the toughest challenge he’s faced in years despite amassing a voting record that progressives had long believed was out of step with his solidly Democratic district. He inherited the Chicago-area seat from his father, Bill, who had held it since 1983 before resigning after the Democratic primary in 2004 so that party leaders could put Dan on the ballot in his place. Unabashedly anti-abortion, the younger Lipinski is one of just three Democrats remaining in the House who voted against the Affordable Care Act in 2010. “I don’t regret my vote,” he told me last month, although he pointed out that he opposed GOP efforts to repeal the law.
Newman had been politically active in the district, but this was her first run for office. She secured the backing of key progressive groups, including NARAL, EMILY’s List, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, and Service Employees International Union. Leading liberal Democrats gave her bid a boost later in the race, as she won endorsements from Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, as well as two veteran members of Illinois’s House delegation, Representatives Jan Schakowsky and Luis Gutierrez. Schakowsky told me it was the first time she had ever backed a primary challenge against one of her Democratic colleagues. Newman also drew support from several former aides to Barack Obama, who chafed at Lipinski’s attempt to tie himself to the former president after voting against key pieces of his agenda.