The results of Tuesday night’s primary elections in Illinois are a disappointing but helpful reminder of just how difficult the left’s battle to change electoral politics in America is going to be.
In a Chicago-area congressional race that was closely watched around the country, conservative Democratic incumbent Dan Lipinski narrowly defeated progressive challenger Marie Newman. And in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, billionaire J.B. Pritzker bought himself the nomination, winning handily over liberal state Senator Daniel Biss and yet another Kennedy.
Lipinski is, effectively, a Republican. He’s anti-abortion, and he voted against both the Affordable Care Act and the DREAM Act. He also represents a safe blue district, and in what’s proving to be a rarity in the 2018 primary season, the left and the center of the Democratic Party both endorsed his opponent. (Even two of his fellow Democrats in the Illinois congressional delegation endorsed Newman.)
But Lipinski has a famous family name—his anti-abortion father represented the same district for decades—and iron-fisted Illinois Speaker Mike Madigan gerrymandered the hell out of his district to protect him from challenges on the left and right. Lipinski hung on, but just barely; with 97 percent of precincts and nearly 90,00 votes in, he had just a 1,599-vote lead over Newman.
In his bid for re-election in the safely Democratic seat, Lipinski will run against a Nazi.
Pritzker’s biggest achievements thus far in life are having a lot of money (his family owns the Hyatt Hotel chain), getting really good at not paying taxes, and being racist in conversations with disgraced former Governor Rod Blagojevich. So being governor of Illinois would be a big step up for him.
Biss wasn’t a perfect candidate by any means; he first rose to prominence for his support of slashing pensions for state workers, and he dropped his socialist running mate because he would not denounce the BDS movement. But billionaires are the enemy, especially when they’re union-busting, anti-worker billionaires like the Pritzkers, so it’s undeniable that Biss’ loss and Pritzker’s win is a bad thing for the left.
Pritzker and Lipinski represent some of the hardest dragons to slay in the Democratic Party and American politics in general: obscenely rich guys and nepotism cases. But even though they won, both recognized they had to make concessions to the left in order to win enough people over in a base that might as well be in a different party than the people who lead the Democrats in Congress.
Pritzker, perhaps seeing a hard path to the nomination if he ran as a typical Third Way Democrat, tied up the support of big unions early, said he’ll make Illinois a leader in the state-level resistance to Donald Trump, and ran on legalizing weed as a criminal justice reform issue. Lipinski, meanwhile, tried to paint himself as the Bernie Sanders candidate in the race, even though his record is nothing like Sanders’. (Sanders, who won Lipinski’s district in 2016, endorsed Newman.)
This was always going to be hard. But while centrism may have won the day in Illinois, the left can take heart that things are at least moving in the right direction—even if it’s taking longer in some places than in others.
Other notable races around the state on Tuesday night:
- Incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, another guy with a lot of money, barely beat off a primary challenge from Trump-supporting bigot and state representative Jeanne Ives to win his party’s nomination for governor. Rauner is deeply unpopular in Illinois, and recent polls showed both Pritzker and Biss with double-digit leads over him.
- Former Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn tried to resurrect his dead career with a run for attorney general, but he lost.
- As expected, Cook County commissioner and former Chicago mayoral candidate Chuy García won the primary in the heavily Democratic 4th Congressional District. García is a big ally of Bernie Sanders.
- In the Democratic primary in the 6th Congressional District—which went for Hillary Clinton but is currently represented by Republican Rep. Peter Roskam—breast cancer survivor Kelly Mazeski, who says she’s a supporter of a $15 minimum wage and a public option for healthcare, looked on pace to win a crowded primary which included Sean Casten, whose big plan to beat Roskam was to go hard after moderate Republicans.
- Voters in Cook County overwhelmingly voted yes on a ballot question to legalize marijuana. While it’s non-binding, Pritzker’s support of legalization means it’ll likely be a big issue in the general election.
Update, 9:45 A.M ET, 03/21/2018: Early Wednesday morning, Casten overtook Mazeski and defeated her, and will take on Roskam in November. According to the (Arlington Heights, IL) Daily Herald, “The delay came because of issues with voter machines in DuPage County,” and Casten beat Mazeski by a 4,000-plus vote margin in DuPage.