CHICAGO — The sting of defeat is still fresh, but just days after narrowly losing to longtime incumbent Rep. Dan Lipinski, progressive challenger Marie Newman isn’t ruling out a rematch.
In her first public remarks since falling short of ousting Lipinski, a “ridiculously proud” Newman, sounded like someone who wasn’t about to end her foray into politics.
“I don’t know what the future holds,” she said Sunday in an exclusive interview with POLITICO. “I’m not closing any doors on anything. The next month will be about looking at where I can be most impactful. I’ve already been offered many things. I’ll be looking at a wide variety of things.”
Lipinski was able to claim victory Tuesday evening with a roughly 2,000-vote lead — a number Newman believes will narrow even more once official tallies are in.
As Democrats continue to debate the meaning of a congressional primary that was viewed as bellwether for the direction of the party, Newman told POLITICO on Sunday her loss is a testament to the obstacles facing women running for office.
She also pointed to momentum and financial resources that came too late to overcome Lipinski, a conservative Democrat who was armed with decades of name ID and the support of the still-powerful Chicago machine.
“To get within a point and a half of an entrenched machine incumbent makes me ridiculously proud,” Newman said. “The monarchy goes back 36 years … It’s a very tough thing to overcome. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter. I lost, and it is what it is. But I’m very proud of what we did.”
Newman said it’s off-base to presume the district isn’t ready for a progressive candidate. And despite having the vigorous support of groups like Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America and EMILY’s List, she accused Lipinski of giving the issue of abortion too much prominence in the race.
“Mr. Lipinski focused this on the abortion issue, I never did. I talked about the real issues in the campaign — helping working families, helping the middle class, bringing infrastructure, health care … he decided to make it about abortion,” she said, adding: “He always brought it up first. I would respond.”
Lipinski, however, has complained that it was Newman-backed forces who focused on his opposition to abortion rights when he believed people in the district wanted to talk about jobs and the economy.
Neither Lipinski nor a spokesperson could be reached Sunday.
Newman blamed machine elements in Lipinski’s campaign as the forces behind disparaging text messages — including on St. Patrick’s Day, a major Chicago holiday when early voting was underway — that hurt her campaign among 3rd Congressional District voters.
While Lipinski is known for his mild-mannered demeanor and low-key political style, the 11th hour texts accused Newman of running an abortion clinic, of wanting to put the Little Sisters of the Poor out of business and of being a Holocaust denier, she said.
“They did do all of those things,” Newman said, pinning the blame on Lipinski’s camp. “Just to be clear, my husband is Jewish, two of my family members are nuns, and my family volunteered for Little Sisters of the Poor, including my mother. My mother was so outraged they made that comment about Little Sisters of the Poor, she literally got sick one night. As far as my family is concerned, they’ll never forgive that comment that Mr. Lipinski put forth on me.”
Unofficial vote totals from Tuesday’s primary show the Lipinski family’s historic dominance has diminished. In past cycles, Dan Lipinski, who claimed the seat after his father’s longtime service, easily won Chicago precincts with 70 or even 90 percent of the vote. But the latest Chicago ward and suburban township breakdowns signal that the tide is turning, with Newman claiming nearly half of the vote totals in what were once machine strongholds. Those results raise questions about Lipinski’s vulnerability in a presidential year race featuring higher turnout.
“The district is ready. It’s a savvy, sophisticated constituency and voter population. They are hard-working and they want people they know are going to deliver,” she said. “They now know very clearly that Mr. Lipinski has done nothing for the working class … I think they uncovered that later in the campaign, but they now understand that.”
While Newman enjoyed the collective help from national groups, some of whom were on the ground in January, Newman and others have questioned about whether their support could have come earlier when it perhaps would have been more helpful.
Newman’s challenge to oust an incumbent was not unlike more than half of all potential female candidates this year who had to take on incumbents in primaries or general election races, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.
Aside from Newman’s loss, the Illinois 6th Congressional District primary featured a contest where five out of seven Democrats were women. In the end, the nomination for a chance to oust Rep. Peter Roskam went to a man: Sean Casten.
“Women have always had to fight three times as hard to get to the same place as men. That old adage is holding true here,” Newman said. “It is unfortunate that in two major congressional seats that a woman did not come out on the other side as a victor. But I think we have to look at it and know that at least part of it is male dominance, the machine, and a wide variety of forces.”