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Centrist Incumbents Edge Out Rivals in Illinois Primaries

Illinois Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski narrowly defeated a primary election challenge from an abortion-rights advocate for his House seat.

The Associated Press declared Mr. Lipinski the winner early Wednesday. His margin over nonprofit executive Marie Newman was less than two percentage points, the AP reported.

Ms. Newman argued that the seven-term incumbent was out of step with the heavily Democratic district because of his opposition to abortion rights, his vote against the Affordable Care Act and his refusal to endorse Barack Obama in his 2012 re-election campaign.

Ms. Newman refused to concede Tuesday night. “It’s this close,” she said, holding two fingers inches apart, “I would like Mr. Lipinski to have a very painful evening…I’m not ready to give in.”

Ms. Newman told supporters in an email that “there’s a good chance we wake up in recount mode,” the AP reported. There are no rules in Illinois for an automatic recount of full election results.

In the Republican gubernatorial primary, Gov. Bruce Rauner defeated state Rep. Jeanne Ives, who had attacked Mr. Rauner for signing legislation expanding access to abortion to Illinoisans on public assistance. He declared victory before the race was called by the Associated Press, and Ms. Ives later conceded.

Billionaire J.B. Pritzker spent $70 million to win the state’s Democratic primary over Daniel Biss, a state senator who ran as a Bernie Sanders -style progressive, and Chris Kennedy, the son of Robert F. Kennedy who touted his family’s political history on the campaign trail.

Mr. Rauner’s victory sends a signal that voters are willing to accept some deviation from party ideology, particularly from incumbents who have built relationships with them on other issues.

Mr. Lipinski had support from No Labels, the organization devoted to electing centrist candidates from both parties, which helped organize a super PAC backed by donors including Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner of the Chicago White Sox baseball and Chicago Bulls basketball franchises.

“This is the political center in this country finally striking back,” said Ryan Clancy, the chief strategist for No Labels. “You have the tea party of the left and it’s leaving no room for anybody else who has any deviation from party orthodoxy and that is a disaster in our view.”

The Lipinski seat is expected to remain in the Democratic column as the only candidate running as a Republican, Arthur Jones, questions the existence of the Holocaust on his campaign website and has been disavowed by the GOP.

Democrats need a net gain of 23 Republican seats to retake the House majority, and the party sees a cluster of possibilities in Illinois.

Reps. Peter Roskam and Mike Bost are two of the most vulnerable Republicans in the country, and their races have been rated tossups by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. Reps. Rodney Davis and Randy Hultgren are in districts that are more favorable for the GOP, but not overwhelmingly so, according to Cook’s analysis.

In those four House primaries, Democrats seemed poised to nominate several candidates backed by EMILY’s List, the organization that backs women running for office.

In the contest to face Mr. Roskam in a district in Chicago’s western suburbs, Sean Casten, a clean-energy businessman who largely self-funded his campaign, was in a close contest with breast cancer survivor Kelly Mazeski. The AP hasn’t called this race as of Wednesday morning.

In the exurbs northwest of Chicago, Democratic Lauren Underwood, a former Barack Obama health policy adviser, prevailed in a crowded field as their nominee to run against Mr. Hultgren.

Downstate, Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, a professional fundraiser favored by national party leaders, beat four other candidates to win the right to face Mr. Davis in a district that stretches from the St. Louis suburbs to the college towns in central Illinois.

Democrats also have targeted Mr. Bost in a southern Illinois district that includes the state’s St. Louis, where Brendan Kelly, a St. Clair county prosecutor, became their nominee.

The Lipinski-Newman race has led to an unusual split in Democratic politics. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee declined to endorse Mr. Lipinski—a highly unusual move for an incumbent facing a challenge.

In the downstate district held by GOP Rep. Rodney Davis, the big Democratic field includes David Gill, a physician who lost by just 1,002 in 2012 when Mr. Davis first ran for the House. Another candidate vying to take on Mr. Davis, is Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, a professional fundraiser who is the favorite of national party leaders and endorsed by EMILY’s List.

Ms. Newman also won endorsements from two members of the Illinois Democratic congressional delegation who serve with Mr. Lipinski, along with Sens. Sanders of Vermont and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

Mr. Lipinski retains support of powerful local labor unions and suburban mayors, but his opposition to abortion rights and his 2010 vote against the Affordable Care Act have energized the left wing of the party to oppose him. Mr. Sanders, who won the district in his 2016 presidential primary, endorsed Ms. Newman.

The district, which includes suburbs southwest of Chicago, is unlikely to be competitive in the general election; Hillary Clinton won it by 15 percentage points in 2016.

“After today there will be two unpopular candidates which means we are likely headed for one of the most negative races this state has ever seen,” said Lance Trover, who was a senior aide to Mr. Rauner’s 2014 campaign.

—Douglas Belkin contributed to this article.

Write to Reid J. Epstein at reid.epstein@wsj.com and Janet Hook at janet.hook@wsj.com

Appeared in the March 21, 2018, print edition as ‘Centrists Face Challenge in Illinois.’

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