WASHINGTON — Progressives failed to oust one of the last anti-abortion Democrats in Congress last year, but are coming back faster and harder this time around, setting up an extraordinary intraparty clash.
On Monday, EMILY's List, MoveOn, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, and Democracy for America announced support for Marie Newman, who is once again challenging Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., for his suburban Chicago district.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., also recently endorsed Newman, becoming the first presidential candidate to do so.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the election arm for House Democrats that typically backs incumbents, has doubled down on its quiet support for Lipinski by threatening to cut ties with vendors who work for his opponent — or anyone else who challenges a sitting Democratic lawmaker in a primary.
Newman said that threat prompted pollsters and other consultants to abandon her campaign. The DCCC plays a central role in connecting candidates and vendors, and is a large client itself, so many firms and consultants make their living partially off referrals from the group.
Lipinski fired back at Newman after the groups announced their endorsement, indicating he plans to fight her aggressively.
"These endorsements make clear that Marie Newman is again running a 'tea party of the left' campaign at the behest of national interest groups rather than focusing on taking care of the everyday concerns of people in the district as I have a track record of doing," Lipinski said in a statement. "This type of campaign, along with Ms. Newman's hateful, Trump-like rhetoric, her penchant for spreading falsehoods - which she was called out for recently by an independent fact-checker, and the 2018 #metoo issues in her campaign she has still yet to address, will once again be rejected by voters."
The early moves by both sides ensure the race will receive outsize attention for months to come, and could become a proxy fight in the 2020 presidential race.
The heavily Democratic district has little danger of falling into Republican hands in next year's election, no matter the outcome in the primary.
In last year's midterms, the district became a key battleground between competing wings of the Democratic Party, with pro-abortion rights groups spending at least $1.6 million to back Newman, while a pro-Lipinski super PAC spent $1 million of its own to defend him.
Lipinski won that battle and held onto his seat, even though he is ideologically out of step with Democrats' leftward drift in recent years.
Lipinski voted against the Affordable Care Act and has broken with his party on guns, the minimum wage, and other issues, but the focus of the backlash against him has been on abortion.
While many Democrats, like Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., say they personally oppose abortion, they also say they would never vote or do anything to limit a woman's reproductive rights. The difference with Lipinski is that he has not only voted against abortion rights, but also spoken out publicly against them.
This year, he returned again to speak at the annual March for Life rally in Washington and was the only Democratic member of Congress to do so.
All of that has made him a target of both usual suspect-progressive groups, like MoveOn, but also women's and pro-abortion rights groups that typically align with the Democratic establishment, like Planned Parenthood's political arm.
"In a time when the president and GOP have made it clear that stripping away the fundamental rights of women is at the top of their agenda, we must have a leader to stand up against Trump. That is not Congressman Dan Lipinski," said Stephanie Schriock, the President of the Democratic women's group EMILY's List.
"Congressman Lipinski has time and again proven he's out of touch with his constituents by standing in lockstep with the Republicans," Schriock added. "The people of the 3rd District deserve better, and Marie Newman has proved she's the woman for the job."
An even larger coalition of progressive groups, unions, and lawmakers backed Newman in 2018, but got involved much later in the process, with some of the biggest waiting until just weeks before the primary to declare their support.
This time around, they hope the head start, plus the higher turnout of a presidential election year, will put Newman over the top in the March 2020 primary.
A spokesperson for the DCCC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.