Those within or beyond the Democratic Party who have been hoping to see Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez lead a bloody “purge” of insufficiently progressive congressional colleagues are probably going to be disappointed by her first endorsement of a 2020 primary challenger. It wasn’t a shocker, though the New York Times tried to make it sound dramatic:
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez plans on Tuesday to announce her endorsement of Marie Newman, a progressive candidate seeking to oust Representative Daniel Lipinski, a conservative-leaning Illinois Democrat, marking her first move of the 2020 campaign cycle to back a primary challenger to an incumbent.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s high-profile support amounts to a powerful seal of approval, telegraphed to her legions of ardent liberal fans, on behalf of Ms. Newman, and a reflection of the zeal of the party’s progressive left to leverage its nascent power to continue targeting sitting Democrats.
That overstates the significance of this step by AOC. Lipinski is a bit of a relic from an earlier era before generally conservative Southerners and culturally conservative Catholics drifted into the GOP camp. He’s a favorite of the hard-line anti-abortion group the Susan B. Anthony List, which was heavily involved in his 2018 campaign (he defeated Newman by 2,000 votes). He voted against the Affordable Care Act and (as AOC noted in her endorsement letter for Newman) opposed the DREAM Act until Newman’s challenge threw a scare into him. And he basically inherited the congressional seat from his father, Bill Lipinski; father and son have represented the Chicago-based third congressional district for 36 years.
Lipinski’s district, moreover, is precisely the kind of safe blue territory that doesn’t require a less orthodox Democrat to hold it. Clinton beat Trump there by 15 points, and Lipinski’s Republican opponent in 2018 was a self-confessed Holocaust denier and former Nazi leader. And AOC is hardly the first member of Congress to support Newman against the incumbent: In 2018, two fellow Chicago House members, Luis Gutiérrez and Jan Schakowsky, spurned Lipinski and endorsed his challenger. This time around, Senators (and current and former presidential candidates) Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kirsten Gillibrand have already backed Newman. And earlier this year, the chair of the House Democratic campaign arm, Cheri Bustos, another Illinois colleague of Lipinski’s, canceled her plans to attend a fundraiser for the incumbent
All in all, unless your policy is ironclad loyalty to the status quo, Lipinski is about as safe and conventional a target as AOC could have chosen. And she is clearly yielding the right of way to Nancy Pelosi’s determination to make life as easy as possible for Democrats fighting to hang on to seats in marginal districts in 2020:
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said that she would continue to assess whether she would weigh in on other primary challenges but that she had no interest in intervening in competitive races that could tip the balance of power in the House.
“If we’re going to make these changes, they need to come from safe blue seats,” she said.
As “purges” go, it’s not all that bloody.