“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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