A brutal battle between 2 Democrats fighting over the party’s future has all eyes on Illinois today

Illinois congressional candidate Marie Newman

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Illinois congressional candidate Marie Newman
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Joshua Lott/Reuters

  • All eyes are on the Illinois primaries on Tuesday – particularly, on a congressional battle between two Democrats, which has become a national flashpoint.
  • In the governor’s race, the primary could narrow the field to a billionaire and a multi-millionaire.
  • Early voting is way up, especially in heavily Democratic areas.

Rep. Dan Lipinski, who’s represented Illinois’ third district for seven terms, is staunchly opposed to abortion, voted against Obamacare, and has lauded President Donald Trump as a “champion on immigration reform.”

But Lipinski is a Democrat – one of a small coalition of conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats left in the House. And his Tuesday primary race against progressive Marie Newman will be an early test of how far right the Democratic party umbrella extends in 2018.

Newman, a first-time candidate who has the backing of several national women’s rights groups and two members of Illinois’ congressional delegation, campaigned heavily against Lipinski’s record and promoted herself as a champion of “working families, healthcare for all, and everybody’s rights,” she told Business Insider last year.

“He’s radically conservative,” Newman said of Lipinski, who has voted with Trump 35% of the time. “He’s hidden all of his views.”

The race is also a test of the future of the Blue Dog Coalition, which just welcomed its newest member of Congress, Conor Lamb, who eked out a win over his Republican opponent in a Pennsylvania district that went for Trump by 20 points.

The suburban Chicago district is solidly blue – Hillary Clinton won it by 15 points in the 2016 general election – and both Lipinski and Newman supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential primary.

But Lipinski, who went unchallenged in his last two primaries, warns that candidates like Newman are creating a “Tea Party of the left” that is driving the party away from kitchen-table issues and uniting economic values.

“We need to have a big-tent party,” he said during a local radio interview this month. “We need to rally around those issues that can bring all Democrats together.”

A cash-rich governor’s race

Illinois voters are also intensely focused on the gubernatorial primary, which is perhaps the Democrats best chance to flip a governor’s mansion this year. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who’s faced criticism from conservatives for signing a bill that expands funding of abortion and is less popular than Trump in Illinois, is being challenged from the right by state Rep. Jeanne Ives.

On the Democratic ticket, billionaire J.B. Pritzker is looking to woo independents in Trump country, while Robert F. Kennedy’s son Chris Kennedy and state Sen. Daniel Biss are poised to split the progressive, anti-establishment vote.

If Rauner and Pritzker, the apparent frontrunner, win their primaries, the contest will be between a billionaire and a multi-millionaire – and the two will likely spend more than has been spent on any gubernatorial race in history.

High turnout

Early voting in Illinois is up in a big way, which could boost progressive underdogs, including Newman.

Over 330,000 people had cast their ballots for Tuesday’s elections as of Sunday, which far exceeds the total 200,000 who voted early in the 2014 primary. Cook County, the deep-blue region that includes Chicago, has seen some of the biggest increases in early voting.

And almost 40% of early voters in the third district – where Newman is challenging Lipinski – are infrequent voters, as compared to just 9% in 2014.