“Progressive Policies Are Practical”: Marie Newman on Unseating a Conservative Incumbent

Natalie Shure

Courtesy of Marie Newman for Congress

Just five days ahead of her March 17 primary, Marie Newman made a necessary but distressing campaign decision. Because of the escalating Covid-19 pandemic, Newman pulled more than 1,000 volunteers off of door-knocking and in-person get-out-the-vote efforts, reassigning them instead to phone banking and texting. It was nerve-racking for the campaign, which relied heavily on canvassing in Illinois’ 3rd District in southwest Chicagoland.

What I felt in that moment was, 100%, we were always going to pull everybody in and be safe,” Newman says. But I also thought that I could lose the election, because that was our jam! The doors were our secret sauce.” Compounding these concerns was the fact that, unlike other states that postponed their March primaries, Illinois opted to go forward with in-person primaries as scheduled — a move that seriously depressed turnout, which Newman had been counting on to win.

Regardless, Newman prevailed, knocking out eight-term incumbent Rep. Dan Lipinski after narrowly losing to him in the 2018 primary. Newman’s winning platform touted Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and reproductive rights — putting her in stark contrast with Lipinski, whose opposition to the Affordable Care Act and abortion made him one of the most right-wing Democrats in Congress.

Newman’s 2018 campaign against Lipinski had been one of the earliest in a wave of progressive Democratic primary challenges but suffered from a lack of support early on from groups such as Emily’s List and Planned Parenthood that famously dragged their heels for the first several months of her 2018 run, hesitating to support an insurgent against an incumbent, despite Newman being a pro-choice woman.

The second time around, though, Newman launched her campaign early — and had the benefit of name recognition as well as nationwide progressive energy. Newman also veered leftward in her messaging, emphasizing universal social programs. Her run ended up with support from several members of Congress, including progressive Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), as well as multiple liberal and labor organizations like AFL-CIO Illinois, National Nurses United and Our Revolution. We had so many endorsements, it was a little bit embarrassing, quite frankly,” Newman says.

But while Newman’s campaign fits the mold of a left challenge against a conservative incumbent, she has somewhat resisted that narrative. Newman defines herself as a progressive but insists that progressive policies” are, above all else, very practical. She also welcomes a somewhat heterodox Democratic Party — though not as big a tent as would be needed to include outliers like Lipinski — and favors consensus building.

I think we’re stuck in a bunch of labels and all these little lanes,” Newman says. I think everybody has to stop worrying about their damn lane, and start worrying about the American people.”

As a 501©3 non­prof­it pub­li­ca­tion, In These Times does not oppose or endorse can­di­dates for polit­i­cal office.

Natalie Shure is a Los Angeles-based writer and researcher whose work focuses on history, health, and politics.
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