Former Illinois Rep. Dan Lipinski, a moderate Democrat who was ousted from his party for his pro-life views, is considering running for Congress as an independent in either 2022 or 2024. He spoke with The American Spectator about why he would want to run again, why he didn’t feel at home in either major party, and what his top priority would be if he were to return to Capitol Hill.
Lipinski is a man who resists easy political categorization. His claim to fame, and his eventual Achilles’ heel, is his staunch pro-life beliefs. Lipinski had faced some intra-party challengers in his 16-year tenure, but the election of Donald Trump in 2016 supercharged the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, making his position on abortion anathema. Lipinski narrowly defeated a left-wing primary challenger, Marie Newman, in 2018, and she defeated him in a 2020 rematch. “This sends a message to every Democratic incumbent that if you don’t vote like a Democrat, you will be held accountable,” said Justice Democrats executive director Alexandra Rojas.
Wikipedia blithely describes the former Chicago congressman as “conservative,” a sentiment many of his former partisans evidently agreed with. But it belies a more idiosyncratic approach and voting record. Lipinski sported an “F” rating from the National Rifle Association and strong grades from organized labor and environmental groups. On many if not most issues, he was a loyal Democrat. But his consistent pro-life views were simply a bridge too far in the modern party.
The American Spectator asked Lipinski why, after serving eight terms in the House in what seems like a stressful and unhappy job, he was considering returning to politics in the first place. Lipinski said he was “concerned about where the country is going,” charging that both parties are putting their own interests before the interest of the country and need to be shaken up. “I don’t see either party doing much besides fighting,” he continued.
Resigned to the notion that he would be derided as a DINO among the Democrats and a RINO among the Republicans, Lipinski has no intention of being an IINO.
Lipinski said he does not want to run as a Democrat because they do not recognize him as one of their own. “If you ask a lot of party activists,” Lipinski said, “I was not a Democrat.” Representatives in Congress are supposed to represent their constituents and not their party, he argued, and partisanship has made that more difficult. He used the infrastructure bill passed this Congress as an example, criticizing progressive Democrats for holding up a vote on it and Republicans for mostly voting against it.
Lipinski revealed in a Chicago Tribune column that several Republican officials had asked him to run on their party line, which he rejected. Lipinski told The American Spectator that he thought Republicans wanted to recruit him because they thought he was their best chance of winning.
He’s probably correct about that. Lipinski’s old district, Illinois’s 3rd District, was Democratic-leaning but not overwhelmingly so. With the exception of favorite son Barack Obama in 2008, every Democratic presidential nominee since 2000 received between 55 percent and 59 percent of the vote there. The new 6th District, the successor to the old 3rd that was dismantled in redistricting, has a similar partisan composition: Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump there by eight points in 2016, and Joe Biden defeated Trump there by 11 points.
Lipinski always won his races in blowouts; his worst-ever showing in a general election was in 2014 when he took just under 65 percent of the vote. He was a strong candidate as a Democrat, and would have been as a Republican.
But Lipinski knows that just as he has taken many votes that angered Democrats, he has also taken plenty that anger Republicans. Trying to fight his way through a challenging Republican primary, he said, was simply not worth it.
But at the root of Lipinski’s desire to run as an independent is that he wants to govern independently. “I don’t want to go back to Congress and take instructions from Nancy Pelosi or Kevin McCarthy. I don’t want to do either,” he said. Resigned to the notion that he would be derided as a DINO among the Democrats and a RINO among the Republicans, Lipinski has no intention of being an IINO.
Running as an independent is not easy. There are few examples of independents having a major impact and fewer still of them emerging victorious. Lipinski said that he is confident that he could be successful because many voters are unhappy with both parties. Lipinski acknowledged the challenge, saying that “the system is rigged against independents in Illinois” and citing the fact that as a Republican or Democrat a candidate needs to submit a petition of 400 signatures to get on the ballot, but an independent needs 5,000. Still, he says that he has a leg up because people know him from his time in Congress, and he has a moderate streak to appeal to middle-of-the-road voters.
What would Lipinski’s top priority in Congress be were he to return? “Helping the middle class,” he said. “We have people on both sides of the aisle talking about doing more for families…. I think that would be my first priority to get something done.” Lipinski said building more things in America and supporting manufacturing should be a priority. The Trump administration, he said, put out a good strategy on manufacturing, but he criticized it for not following through with it and criticized the Biden administration for failing to put out any plan at all.
The filing deadline in Illinois is July 11, so Lipinski has until then to submit the required signatures to make the ballot. He says he is still unsure whether he will run this year or wait until 2024. If he does jump in, he will surely shake up the race for Illinois 6th District, and perhaps Congress.