Chicago, Ill., Mar 16, 2020 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- In a presidential election year, an ‘October Surprise’ can alter the course of an entire election. This March, a global pandemic presents a unique challenge to candidates during the primary season.
On Tuesday, March 17, Illinois Democratic voters will choose their presidential candidate in the state’s Democratic Primary. Residents of the third congressional district in Chicago’s south side will also vote to re-elect eight-term Catholic Congressman Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), or to support his pro-abortion opponent Marie Newman.
Lipinski is recognized as one of the last remaining pro-life Democrats in federal office. He has supported the Hyde Amendment—a prohibition on taxpayer funding of elective abortions—as well as a “pain-capable” 20-week abortion ban. He is locked in his second consecutive primary battle with Newman, a pro-abortion candidate who has received support from national pro-abortion groups such as Planned Parenthood, the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), and EMILY’s List.
In 2018, Lipinski scored a narrow 2,000-vote victory over Newman after a bruising primary fight, before recording a comfortable general election victory in the safely-Democratic district. Last year, Newman once again announced her intent to run against Lipinski.
Now, in the days leading up to the long-anticipated primary night, preventive measures at the state and national level are being taken to stop the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and they are expected to significantly alter a race that is receiving national attention.
“It’s really flipped the script,” Lipinski campaign spokesman Phil Davidson told CNA of the coronavirus. “Turnout is going to be lower—how low remains to be seen.”
Early voting through mail-in ballots and specific sites “has been pretty good,” Davidson said, which is “encouraging, based on the results we’ve seen so far.”
Last Monday, the state’s governor J.B. Pritzker issued an official disaster declaration as the virus spread.
There were more than 4,100 confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. as of Monday afternoon, according to the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Of the total U.S. cases, there were 91 active cases in Illinois.
Some states and localities were either encouraging people to stay home or had actively shut down non-essential businesses.
One key marquee event scrapped over public health concerns was Chicago’s South Side Irish Parade, a 41 year-old tradition held in the 19th ward in the third district, where lots of Lipinski’s base of Irish Catholic Democrats gather annually.
“To lose that, it stinks, obviously,” Davidson said, “when there was going to be one big final push.”
“You’ve just got to adjust and figure out a Plan B,” he said, noting that some volunteers are still canvassing for the campaign but are standing 10 feet away from the door per instructions. Large events, including an election night party, have been cancelled, and the campaign is putting more emphasis on remote activities like phone banking as concerns over public health continue.
Some pro-life groups, including Democrats for Life of America, had originally planned to support the campaign with volunteers coming in from out of town to knock on doors.
While there has been some support from pro-lifers and others, it has not amounted to as much as originally hoped for, Davidson said.
Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, told CNA on Monday that the group was still working in tandem with Students for Life to canvas for Lipinski in the district.
“We’ve been here all weekend,” Day said, noting that around 20 volunteers were working on Sunday, going from door to door and asking questions or leaving campaign literature on the doorstep.
While attitudes towards taxpayer-funded abortion were largely “mixed,” Day said, many people strongly supported policies of late-term abortion restrictions and mandatory care for babies who survive abortions. The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which Lipinski has signed a petition to bring a House vote on, requires health care workers to provide necessary care for babies who survive botched abortion attempts.
The volunteers were able to flip some households for Lipinski, Day said, and some voters were surprised to learn about the extreme abortion support at the upper levels of the party’s leadership and presidential field.
“A lot of people don’t realize where the Democratic Party has shifted on this issue,” Day said.
At a Democratic presidential debate on Sunday night in Washington, D.C., front-runner Joe Biden reaffirmed his recent opposition to the Hyde Amendment, at the prodding of rival Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.). The Hyde Amendment has for decades received support from both parties in Congress, and bars taxpayer funding of elective abortions largely through Medicaid reimbursements.
Sanders, citing an “unprecedented assault” on “a woman’s right to control her own body,” brought up Biden’s past support for the policy and asked if he still supported it.
Biden, a Catholic who was vice president from 2009-2017 and a senator who was first elected in 1972, replied that it was “not my view.” Last summer, Biden had reversed his position and opposed Hyde while facing backlash from other Democrats.
He added that “by the way, everybody who’s been in the Congress voted for the Hyde Amendment at one point or another, because it was locked in other bills.”
In response, Day said that “it just saddens me” that Biden would just turn his back on women in this case.”
However, she said that the pro-life vote could help vault Lipinski over the top in Tuesday’s primary.
“I think if the pro-life vote gets out and votes, the results should hopefully be pretty good tomorrow,” Day said.
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