Marie Newman holds lead in tight race to unseat U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski

Marie Newman holds lead in tight race to unseat U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski

Marie Newman (left) and Rep. Dan Lipinski. | Sun-Times file

Newman had sought to oust the longtime Democratic congressman, who along with his father led the 3rd Congressional district for nearly four decades.

In their first electoral slugfest two years ago, just a couple thousand votes separated Marie Newman from unseating Rep. Dan Lipinski in the hotly contested 3rd Congressional District Democratic primary race.

And returns Tuesday night suggested the second round of Lipinski-Newman was another tightly matched affair. With more than 70 percent of precincts reporting, Newman led with nearly 47% of the vote over Lipinski’s 44%.

That put the LaGrange challenger within striking distance of toppling a southwest suburban political dynasty that dates back nearly four decades — but only by a razor-thin margin with thousands of votes still rolling in.

“We knew it would be a whisper; a close race,” Newman said as early returns appeared to slightly lean in her favor. “We know early voting has gone extremely well.”

As she maintained her lead as more votes came in, she said the campaign was “feeling fantastic.”

Earlier in the evening, Lipinski communications director Phil Davidson said the race might come down to mail-in votes.

“I know its very close right now. I’m not exactly sure how many vote by mail ballots will be outstanding on this, but I think its way to early to call.”

He bemoaned the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the close contest, acknowledging low voter turnout typically would be good news for the incumbent, but saying “when it’s a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, you throw out all of the rules right now.”

Both campaigns canceled election night parties to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“Some precincts are looking good, some are not looking good. It’s hard to say. With this turnout being what it is, I think you throw any expectations out the window,” Davidson said.

Newman’s campaign was counting on strong turnout from progressive Chicago-area voters energized by the Donald Trump presidency.

“We’re feeling really good. The last five to six days have been a whirlwind, just trying to figure out how to navigate these quickly changing circumstances,” Newman campaign manager Ben Hardin said.

The contest marked a grudge match between Lipinski and Newman, who lost by just 2,145 votes when she first mounted a progressive challenge against the conservative Democratic incumbent in 2018.

Rush Darwish, 3rd Congressional District candidate.Rich Hein/Sun-Times
Rush Darwish, 3rd Congressional District candidate.

But that was a head-to-head contest. Two other challengers also took votes this time around: Palos Hills entrepreneur Rush Darwish, who drew more than 6 percent of the vote; and Charles Hughes, a Southwest Side NICOR employee who previously worked as a precinct captain for Lipinski’s father and predecessor, Bill Lipinski. Hughes had 2% of the vote.

During an often antagonistic campaign race leading up to Tuesday, Newman drew high-profile endorsements from Mayor Lori Lightfoot and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders while painting the anti-abortion Lipinski as a “fake” Democrat.

Lipinski presented himself as a voice of reason in a bitterly partisan Congress — and more in touch with constituents in the district that extends from the Bridgeport neighborhood out to the far southwest suburbs, an area that includes many socially conservative voters.

The district is also solidly Democratic, all but ensuring a November win for whoever advances to the general election.

Dan Lipinski was appointed to the seat in 2005 after his Chicago political powerhouse father Bill, who had represented the area since 1983, retired and maneuvered to ensure his son would take over.

In other Chicago congressional Democratic primary races, U.S. Reps. Bobby Rush and Danny Davis held commanding leads, leaving them poised to hold onto their seats in the the 1st and 7th Congressional districts this November, respectively.

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