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Dan Lipinski, one of the last openly pro-life Democrats in the House of Representatives, prevailed Tuesday in a primary that pitted the Catholic Chicago lawmaker against the full force of the abortion lobby and the progressive political establishment. As the clock approached midnight, challenger Maria Newman refused to concede and snarled that she “would like to make Mr. Lipinski have a very painful evening.” The AP called the tight race a few minutes later, and the pain was instead felt by Newman and the likes of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Emily’s List, and Gloria Steinem—all of whom had endorsed Newman and together poured millions into this rare effort to oust a veteran incumbent from a safe seat. It was a proxy war over the role of abortion in the Democratic Party, and the abortion absolutists lost.

In this bluest of blue districts—one where the GOP is not even mustering token opposition, instead abandoning its primary to an unopposed Holocaust-denying fringe figure—Lipinski’s victory should be seen as a repudiation of the pro-abortion litmus test upon which many Democrat leaders now insist. Whether those leaders will get the message is another question. Bernie Sanders, who carried the district in the 2016 presidential primaries, had endorsed Newman, as had likely 2020 candidate Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and a number of Lipinski’s House colleagues. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reneged on a promise to back Lipinski. Despite all the Democratic knives in his back, Lipinski is still standing.

Will Sanders now return to the more accommodating tone he had sounded after DNC chair Tom Perez blackballed Heath Mello at NARAL’s behest last year? (Mello was a Catholic state legislator running for mayor of Omaha who, despite making the local Planned Parenthood folks happy with his evolving voting record, was deemed insufficiently pro-abortion.) “I think you just can’t exclude people who disagree with us on one issue,” said Sanders back then.

Will Conor Lamb, a Catholic who just won as an “anti-Pelosi” Democrat in a district Trump had carried by some 20 points, and others like him move from being “personally” against abortion to letting their faith inform their profession? Lamb replaces Republican Tim Murphy, a member of the House Pro-Life Caucus, who resigned after it was revealed that he had urged the woman he was having an affair with to get an abortion. Hypocrisy carries no party label.

Lipinski’s victory might just carve out a small space in the party of the little guy for those who defend the littlest of guys and gals. Or the abortion army might simply reload and come again in two years. Some observers had thought that Lipinski’s decision to sit on his campaign war chest rather than unload it on Newman was a sign of either stupidity or surrender. Now it looks like genius. Lipinski is flush with cash for future battles and owes no allegiance to the party that wanted him gone—only to a district that still refuses to bring out one the political pros insist should be dead. Long live the pro-life Democrat. 

John Murdock teaches at the Handong International Law School.

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