While the coronavirus crisis has prompted states to postpone primaries and thrown into question how voting will proceed in the coming months, the primary results so far suggest that pro-choice candidates are in a strong position to increase their numbers in the House come November.
Last week, in a huge victory for reproductive freedom, Marie Newman defeated Dan Lipinski—one of the last anti-abortion rights Democratic House members—in Illinois’ third Congressional district. Newman is all but assured of victory in November in this solidly Democratic district.
Pro-Choice Candidates Score Wins in 2020
Newman’s win was just one of several victories for pro-choice candidates in the 2020 cycle. Illinois’s pro-choice delegation could increase even more in November, when Betsy Londrigan Dirksen will go up against a vulnerable anti-choice Republican incumbent in a toss-up district. Dirksen, like Newman, ran in 2018 and lost narrowly.
In California, in the open seat vacated by Rep. Katie Hill, Christy Smith was the top vote-getter, as Ms. previously reported, in the lean Democrat district.
Texas—with the flight of suburban women from the GOP and the ever-growing numbers of Latinx and young voters—has some of the most vulnerable anti-choice representatives. According to Cook Political Report, six Republican-held seats are vulnerable or competitive.
In the 23rd district, Gina Ortiz Jones—an LGBT veteran and first-generation Filipina American—easily won her primary. Jones lost the race for this seat in 2018 by only 926 votes; her decision to run in 2020 prompted the incumbent to opt not to run for reelection. The open seat is rated lean Democrat and Jones is running a strong campaign.
In the 21st district, pro-choice champion Wendy Davis easily won her primary to will take on GOP Rep. Chip Roy. Davis—who won international acclaim for her 2013 filibuster against Texas’s anti-abortion TRAP laws and ran for governor in 2014—has vastly more electoral experience than the typical House challenger.
Although the district is rated lean Republican, Davis’s opponent is a first-term representative who voted against the House coronavirus relief bill.
Each of these winning candidates campaigned explicitly and proudly on their commitment to women’s freedom and fundamental rights.
Marie Newman Proves Reproductive Health is a Winning Issue
As abortion rights and access has become ever more imperiled in the Trump Era, candidates are increasingly leaning into the issue.
Newman’s victory, and her trajectory since 2018, is emblematic of this shift—as well as a blueprint for up-and-coming pro-choice women candidates.
A businesswoman and founder of anti-bullying group, Newman narrowly lost to Lipinski in 2018 by 2200 votes. Yet, like many women candidates, she ran again despite the loss.
A broad progressive coalition—anchored by women’s organizations such as EMILY’s List, Planned Parenthood Votes, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Feminist Majority and NOW, and including labor unions and grassroots groups—joined forces to support Newman. EMILY’s List and others spent $1.4 million on an independent expenditure campaign to expose Lipinski’s anti-choice and anti-worker record. NARAL members knocked on 1200 doors and made 25,000 calls.
This time around, Newman won by 2,800 votes.
Newman’s experience suggests the long-term prospects for increasing representation by pro-choice women are strong—even when candidates lose on their first attempt.
That bodes well for someone like Jessica Cisneros, the 26-year-old progressive ACLU lawyer, who came 3000 votes short of defeating the anti-choice Texas Democrat, Rep. Henry Cuellar, in a contest that garnered national attention.
More broadly, Newman’s success “proves that voters across the country are in no mind to stand by as their elected officials throw women and families under the bus,” NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said in a post-election statement. “In times of crisis, fundamental freedoms and rights matter, and those of women are hanging on by a thread in this country. Women voters know it. Threats to Roe rank high on their list of electoral decisions.”
Protecting Pro-Choice Incumbents
In 2020, 39 pro-choice lawmakers who flipped GOP-held seats in the 2018 election are facing their first reelection test. Seventeen of those seats are rated toss-up. Several of the 2018 class’s pro-choice women—such as Kendra Horn (Oklahoma) and Xochitl Torres Small (New Mexico)—represent Republican- and Trump-voting districts and face especially tough reelection battles.
Under Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s leadership, the House majority is firmly committed to advancing reproductive freedom and women’s rights.
With Lipinski defeated, only two anti-abortion rights Democrats remain in the House.
But every Republican in the U.S. House opposes abortion rights. Protecting the House pro-choice majority is critical to women’s rights, regardless of the outcome in the senate and presidential elections.
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