On the heels of Conor Lamb’s upset victory in PA-18 a deep debate within the party has been reignited around whether it should find candidates that fit their districts profiles or whether it should ignite around progressive challengers. Progressives point to the fact they have run several strong candidates in red Congressional districts. They also point to the candidacy of Doug Jones who won an Alabama Senate special election by not hiding his pro-abortion bonafides (nevermind he said he supported gun ownership).
But, that is where the argument’s support largely ends. Conor Lamb’s upset victory in Pennsylvania bolstered the argument of pragmatists in the party. Red-state Democrats in numerous down-ballot contests have won not running as diehard ideologues but rather fitting their districts constituents. Still, progressives always have had the argument their base would take a progressive over a moderate/establishment candidate or worse yet, a “conservative Democrat.”
Yah, about that argument. It died with a whimper Tuesday night in Illinois’s 3rd Congressional District. There, in a hard-fought and narrow victory, Congressman Dan Lipinski beat back a progressive challenge from Marie Newman. The race was viewed as ground zero between pragmatists and progressives.
In his seven terms in Congress, Lipinski has hardly endeared himself to progressives. He voted against the final version of the ACA and supported the Stupak Amendment which banned federal funds going to support abortion in the ACA. He is openly pro-life, Catholic and opposed the Supreme Court’s legalization of gay marriage. He openly opposed the President’s EO on DACA and supports efforts to end it. Despite this, Lipinski had a solid footing among the district’s labor unions and culturally conservative Democrats. The AFL-CIO endorsed him as did Nancy Pelosi.
Progressives made it their mission to unseat him. The Daily Kos endorsed Newman and helped raise hundreds of thousands in donations on her behalf. Two of Lipinski’s fellow Illinois Democrats endorsed Newman. The SEIU also went all in on Newman. Newman, for her part, did not shy away from endorsing LBGTQ rights, DACA and healthcare for all. But, she underestimated her appeal to blue-collar Democrats in Cook County where Lipinski’s narrow victory was earned.
Progressives were notably silent after the election. If the party base in all districts craved progressives how did he win? Indeed, if anything Lipinski’s victory is a validation of Pelosi’s cold, political pragmatism. Lipinski still fit his district and Tuesday night it showed and while the district is solidly Democratic it does have ominous indications for Democrats running numerous progressive challengers in vulnerable GOP seats across the nation.
In red Orange County, in suburban districts in Houston and Dallas, and all across the Rust Belt the party is fielding progressive challengers to GOP incumbents. Moderate Democrats who might fit these districts better are not receiving the majority of funding but rather progressives who might or might not ride a wave to victory. If anything, Lipinski’s victory is a warning to the party they should acknowledge progressives do not fit every district in the era of Trump, even solidly Democratic districts.