CHICAGO — Congressman Dan Lipinski was no friend to President Barack Obama when his fellow Chicago Democrat occupied the White House.
On Thursday, Lipinski got his comeuppance.
A collection of former Obama aides and supporters banded together to deliver some Chicago-style payback, just days before the embattled congressman faces a tough Democratic primary challenge that could end his career.
A campaign mailer from a super PAC backing Lipinski gave the group the opportunity to pile on Lipinski at the worst possible moment. The mail piece featured a photo of the former president on one side, and the words, “Known for Leading.” The flip side offered a picture of Democratic opponent Marie Newman under the headline, “Known for Misleading.”
The idea that Lipinski — who voted against the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature achievement, and declined to endorse Obama’s reelection in 2012 — would try to use the former president’s image resurrected such deep feelings of betrayal that the group of former staffers and supporters quickly assembled for a news conference to call out the congressman for what they called hypocrisy.
“It’s time to reveal the truth, Congressman Lipinski,” said Obama’s 2008 national field organizer Jon Carson. “You are no Barack Obama.”
The ad wasn’t from the Lipinski campaign. The group behind the direct mail, United for Progress, has funded TV ads attacking Newman, who is threatening to topple the Lipinski family’s storied political regime in the Chicago-based 3rd Congressional District.
But once the ad reached mailboxes in the district this week, it drew strong reactions. Over Twitter on Wednesday night, former Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod called the move “galling.”
In fact, Obama loyalists were so steamed that 10 former aides and volunteers stood in Axelrod’s old offices for the Thursday news conference — the very place they said Michelle and Barack Obama made their decision to launch a 2008 presidential bid.
The group recounted the difficulties of corralling enough votes to pass the Affordable Care Act eight years ago — and lamented that Lipinski was the only Illinois Democrat to vote against it.
Organizing for Action National Finance Committee member John Atkinson recalled watching the roll call vote in 2010 with “tears streaming down my face,” from the pride he felt in the moment the landmark health care act passed.
Then, he pivoted to the congressman.
“I was stunned to watch Dan Lipinski vote to deny 20 million Americans the very coverage that he and I both enjoyed, while defying a president and members of Congress who put their careers on the line to pass this health care reform in this country,” Atkinson said. “We will not allow Dan Lipinski’s hypocrisy to stand.
“Congressman Lipinski was never a supporter of President Obama when he needed him most,” he said.
In a recent interview with POLITICO, Lipinski said while he voted against the Affordable Care Act, he “strongly opposed the repeal of the ACA,” and worked to improve it. The veteran Democratic congressman, who opposes abortion rights, had taken issue with how the ACA funded and supported reproductive rights.
His campaign on Thursday said it had nothing to do with the mailer.
“Our campaign did not send that mailer and has no control over the content, and the congressman is not referenced in it,” campaign spokesman Matthew Mayer said in a statement. “But it does raise some serious concerns about the truthfulness of many of Marie Newman’s claims about herself, and we hope she can provide answers to voters about the questions raised.”
The mailer raised questions about Newman’s professional claims and experiences as a business owner.
At the news conference, Jennifer Warner, national organizing director for OFA, read from a 2010 Chicago Sun-Times newspaper article recounting Lipinski’s vote against ACA, despite the fact that he would receive the benefits attached to own pre-condition as a diabetic.
“To add insult to injury, Congressman Lipinski refused to endorse Obama,” Warner said. “It’s shameful, and we’re calling him out.”
In 2012, Lipinski had commented to Medill News Service that he would not publicly endorse anyone in the race for president. That report was picked up by The Huffington Post, amplifying the surprising news that a fellow Chicago Democrat declined to publicly support the president’s reelection.
“He voted for Barack. He supported Barack in 2012,” Mayer explained Thursday, but wouldn’t expand on how he supported Obama.
Supporters said their efforts to call out Lipinski had nothing to do with preserving Obama’s legacy.
“I don’t think we need to do anything to preserve the president’s legacy, it stands on its own,” Atkinson said. “This is about calling out hypocrisy, frankly. And letting the voters know what their representative’s actually doing in Congress and the fact that lying to them about his record and about his allegiances is not going to be tolerated.”
The Illinois primary is March 20.