March 20, 2018 / 10:00 AM / 10 months ago

Democratic incumbent faces challenge from the left in Chicago

CHICAGO, March 20 (Reuters) - Chicago-area Democrats cast their ballots on Tuesday in a nationally watched congressional primary election that could signal whether the anti-Trump sentiment that has galvanized the party’s base could also sweep moderate lawmakers out of office.

U.S. Representative Dan Lipinski is facing a stiff challenge from businesswoman Marie Newman, who says the incumbent’s socially conservative views are out of touch with the district that first elected him in 2004.

“I’m just a true-blue Democrat, and he’s a far-right radical Republican,” Newman said in an interview on Monday at her headquarters, citing Lipinski’s opposition to abortion, his positions on gay rights, and his 2010 vote against the Democrats’ signature Affordable Care Act health law.

Lipinski is among more than a dozen congressional Democrats who face credible challengers, mostly from the left, in nominating contests over the coming months that will determine the party’s candidates for November midterm elections.

Democrats will suffer if they drive away all but the most liberal views, Lipinski said.

“Marie Newman is a ‘Tea Party of the Left’ extremist who ... wants to make the Democratic Party smaller and less inclusive,” the Lipinski campaign said in a prepared statement, in a nod to the conservative Tea Party movement that pushed the Republican agenda to the right.

Democrats need to pick up 23 seats to win control of the House of Representatives from Republicans, and two seats to win the Senate. Analysts say the party stands to benefit from its steadfast opposition to Republican President Donald Trump, who has historically low approval ratings.

Tuesday’s nominating contest in Lipinski’s district is not likely to affect Democrats’ overall chances - the swath of Polish, Irish and Hispanic neighborhoods in Chicago’s South Side and suburbs has not elected a Republican to Congress in decades. The lone Republican candidate this time, Art Jones, is a Holocaust denier who has been disowned by the state party.

But the outcome could embolden progressive challengers and signal how widely this fall’s crop of Democrats will include moderate and conservative lawmakers - a group that has shrunk dramatically since Democrats lost their House majority in 2010.

Lipinski co-chairs the House’s centrist Blue Dog Democrats, whose numbers have dropped from 54 in 2009 to 18 today.

He has the support of the state AFL-CIO labor coalition and Democratic leaders in Congress, as well as many local political figures.

Several Chicago-area Democrats who serve with him in the House declined to endorse him, and national groups that support gay rights, workers’ rights and women’s issues have spent more than $1 million to unseat him. (Reporting by Andy Sullivan Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Rosalba O’Brien)

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