Money flowing into a Democratic primary is split around abortion rights

Democrat Conor Lamb won an upset in Pennsylvania by taking a page out of the moderate "Blue Dog" playbook, but one of...

Posted: Mar 20, 2018 1:46 PM
Updated: Mar 20, 2018 1:46 PM

Democrat Conor Lamb won an upset in Pennsylvania by taking a page out of the moderate "Blue Dog" playbook, but one of that Democratic faction's leaders is in a neck-and-neck primary over his moderate-to-right-leaning views.

The primary battle has pitted fundraising machines on both sides of the Democratic divide in pouring millions of dollars into Tuesday's Democratic primary in Illinois' 3rd Congressional District, which covers parts of Chicago and its suburbs.

Incumbent Rep. Dan Lipinski is a co-chair of the Blue Dogs, a group of centrist (and at times right-leaning) Democratic lawmakers who've been trying to get the party to embrace more moderate stances as the best strategy to combat President Donald Trump and win back control of the House in November.

Lipinski, who has represented the district since 2005, opposes abortion rights, didn't initially support Obamacare and is no fan of Planned Parenthood. The National Right to Life Committee even gave Lipinski a 75 percent rating -- tied for the highest score given to any current Democrat.

But the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party is pushing back hard against the notion that moderating the message is the path to victory this fall.

Instead, progressives want Democrats to stake out stronger left-leaning positions of the kind championed by Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. And they see the Illinois 3rd as the chance to both advance their argument and replace one of the bluest of Blue Dogs with one of their own -- progressive activist Marie Newman. Indeed, Sanders himself endorsed Newman, as did Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. (Nancy Pelosi of California, the top Democrat in the House, endorsed Lipinski.)

Lipinski and Newman each raised about $1 million just through their own formal campaign channels, according to Federal Election Commission records.

And outside groups more than doubled the amount in play for the race -- as super PACs and other interest groups have flooded the zone. More than $1.4 million in outside spending has come in to help Newman, while more than $1.1 million has been spent to aid Lipinski.

Lipinski, with his staunch stance against abortion, in particular, has become the target for seemingly every group in the game that supports abortion rights. Planned Parenthood Action Fund, EMILY's List, NARAL Pro-Choice America and other groups have spent into the six figures combined to oppose Lipinski or support Newman. (Lipinski is more conservative on abortion than Lamb, the triumphant moderate Democrat in Pennsylvania, who has said that while he personally opposes abortion, he supports keeping it legal.)

Planned Parenthood's group alone has spent more than $150,000 on everything from polling services to direct mail to advertising in order to help Newman and oppose Lipinski, the FEC data shows.

On the flip side, groups like Susan B. Anthony List, which opposes abortion rights, have rallied to Lipinski's cause. Nearly $120,000 from Susan B. Anthony List has been spent on not just ads and mailers but also money to fly canvassers to the district, put them up at hotels and transport them in vans to various neighborhoods.

The even bigger money, though, has flowed through the super PACs, which can be formed to raise money and support individual candidates, although not in direct coordination with a campaign.

Citizens for a Better Illinois, which favors Newman, has spent more than $1.1 million against Lipinski, blanketing the district with television and digital ad buys. That includes more than half a million last week alone on such anti-Lipinski advertising.

The super PAC favoring Lipinski, United for Progress, has spent nearly $1 million as well -- on advertising, direct mail and get-out-the-vote efforts. That includes a $125,000 media buy that hit the district over this past weekend.

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