After a tough few months for left-wing Democrats, a bright spot emerged in Tuesday night’s primary in Illinois. Marie Newman, a progressive challenger backed by activist groups, defeated Representative Dan Lipinski in a House primary, putting her on the path to be the latest “Justice Democrat” in Congress, along with household names like Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
Mr. Lipinski, an eight-term incumbent who represents Illinois’ Third Congressional District, has long held views that enraged the party’s left. He vocally opposed abortion access, voted against the Affordable Care Act, and refused to endorse President Barack Obama in his 2012 re-election bid.
In an interview with The New York Times, Ms. Newman described how she overcame Mr. Lipinski after narrowly losing to him in 2018; how the coronavirus pandemic affected the race, and why she believes she was successful in Illinois when Senator Bernie Sanders was not.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Could you give our national audience a sense of the contours of this race? It was often described as progressive vs. moderate, insider vs. outsider. Is that how you saw it?
You know, this is the beginning of a new era in Illinois-3. For the last 38 years, the representative seat has been occupied by a member of the Lipinski family — Dan’s dad had it for 22 years and Dan’s had it for the last 16 years. So nearly 40 years of the Lipinski family in that seat. And they’re members of the Chicago machine.
So what this does is put the district in alignment with its representatives. For many years, Dan was one of the most conservative members of the Democratic Party bar none — if not the most. Our district is a deeply blue Democratic district, so I ran on the platform that I’m a real Democrat with a real plan. And it’s kind of that simple.
I believe in working families, health care for all, and making sure that we have a livable wage.
What does that mean, “the Chicago machine”? And also, if he was so out of touch with voters, why did it take so long to change? Obviously you ran last time and were unsuccessful.
The Chicago machine is just like any other big political machine, and has been around on the Southwest Side of the city for decades, if not a century. And it’s a protective, small group of politicians that protects incumbents.
My campaign really values the work of each of the communities. We’ve had 318 meet and greets since we started our campaign a year ago. And we’ve successfully built a full platform based on what they want: transforming immigration policy, health care for all, making sure that the economy works for everybody with higher wages, paid leave, universal child care.
Your opponent was famously anti-abortion and against Obamacare. Was your victory an embrace of your progressive agenda, or is this a case of a kind of out-of-step Democrat just losing?
From most people’s perspective, yes, he was not a Democrat. He voted against overtime. He voted against Obamacare. He voted against the Dream Act in 2010. It just was clear: He was not only out of step with the district, but really out of step with the Democratic platform.
So that is really kind of the No. 1 reason that I ran, and why I won.
Bernie Sanders endorsed you. How do you compare your results with his throughout the state? He ran far behind you. What did you do that the progressive on the national ticket did not?
You know, I’ve been endorsed by Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Jan Schakowsky, six other members of Congress, a governor, and then 40 local politicians. I think that I’m a blend of the entire party.
Everyone likes to talk about the party in terms of two or three wings. I think there’s probably 50 wings, if we’re all being honest with one another. We’ve always been a mosaic and where we all connect is around working families and workers.
For me, everything is about alignment. You have to be in alignment with your district. That’s the only reason you should run, and that’s the only reason you should be elected. If you’re in alignment with your district, it really doesn’t matter what is happening nationally.
But you were backed by Justice Democrats, the national group that has been playing up that distinction between progressives and moderates. You did seem to benefit from your association with that national fight.
I think we benefited from it because there are people in the district that appreciate that I have a strong environmental record. I want to address the climate crisis. I believe in the objectives of the Green New Deal. I believe in “Medicare for all.” I believe in universal child care, and making sure that we protect workers’ rights and that we protect and empower unions.
The media loves a bucket and a label, but in reality it’s about what the district wants and needs. And if it happens to be that all of the perspectives in the party are embracing my platform, I am thrilled!
But how would you define yourself? Ideologically.
Again, I don’t think it’s super important, but I certainly have progressive values. I put the people in my district first. And so, I would probably say that I’m a progressive.
How did the coronavirus pandemic affect the last couple of weeks in the campaign?
It became very clear to me and my team that we needed to immediately change the campaign. And inside of 12 hours, we took a full on, get-out-the-vote canvassing program, brought it in-house, and brought it to a virtual capacity. They took 1,200 volunteer shifts and moved them to phones, texting and online.
Illinois faced some criticism for going through with its election as other states are opting to move theirs. What did you think of that decision? Were folks safe yesterday?
I saw people being absolutely vigilant, making sure not only that everything was wiped down, but everybody was safe distancing. I think everyone did the best we could.
The governor and the mayor of Chicago made that decision in combination with amazing health experts that are world renowned. So I defer to the governor and the mayor on their decisions.