SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGER
A pro-life Chicago congressman in a tough primary match against a radical abortion proponent was victorious in the March 20 primary thanks to a last-minute push that saw university students rally voters in his support.
U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., defeated anti-bullying advocate Marie Newman by a slim margin of 51-49 – a difference of about 2,000 votes.
Several pundits and media outlets are crediting students from Franciscan University, the University of Notre Dame and Cedarville University for turning the election in Lipinski’s favor because of their door-to-door campaign to talk to crucial voters.
The students were working with the Susan B. Anthony List, a non-partisan organization that seeks to promote pro-life candidates. While the group typically supports Republicans, organizers said that it chose to support the Democrat Lipinski because of his strong pro-life views.
Lipinski is one of only three Democratic members of Congress that still consider themselves pro-life. His opponent, Newman, used Lipinski’s pro-life stances against him during her campaign and had become a formidable challenger to Lipinski in the primary.
Given that Lipinski’s district is heavily blue and hadn’t elected a Republican to Congress since 1975, the winner of the Democratic primary is almost assured to win the general election, which is why organizers said that SBA List decided to get involved in the primary—the real election.
The students, approximately 40 of whom were from Franciscan, walked around Chicago and the surrounding areas during part of their spring break canvassing specific households that tended to vote pro-life and were unlikely to vote in the primary. Some students walked as much as 10 miles a day and several crossed the 35-mile threshold by the end of the four day trip.
Students would go up to the designated houses and ask voters a series of questions which organizers said were designed to help voters think a certain way, specifically about taxpayer-funded abortion. Students would record answers in the i360 app before moving on to the next house.
Some students found hostile people answering their doors who cursed and yelled at them, but many students reported having pleasant interactions with voters. The biggest highlight for them was when they were able to convince a voter to vote for Lipinski.
Junior Chloe Batara had never canvassed before and had a rough first day after she went up to a house and the residents cursed at her and threatened to call the police on her for allegedly trespassing.
“But then I visited this elderly woman who was caught in the middle between Lipinski and Newman and after I had a chance to talk to her about Lipinski’s pro-life stances, she decided that she would vote for him,” Batara said. “Getting others to vote pro-life made it all worth it.”
The 70 volunteers on the trip were all divided into teams of six or seven for the entirety of the canvassing. Trip organizers would hold contests between the teams to motivate them to always be on the top of their game.
Sophomore Sandra Victoria said her team leader really pushed them to be their best because of how important each house was to achieving their goal.
“The majority of my van had never canvassed before,” Victoria said, “but she reminded us that every door counted and every person we talked to mattered in such a way that made us really want to win.”
This is not the first time that Susan B. Anthony List has worked with Franciscan students. Tommy Valentine, who graduated from the university last year, had done extensive work with the organization before coming to Franciscan and wanted to continue working with the group in college.
As president of the Young Americans for Freedom club, Valentine helped coordinate several canvassing trips before the 2016 presidential election. This time, he helped coordinate one of the group’s largest “deployments” to help in this key race.
Susan B. Anthony List also called in several staff members from their Washington offices to help canvass, including Jill Stanek, a well-known pro-life advocate who debated former President Barack Obama on abortion issues when Obama was an Illinois state senator.
Stanek spoke very highly of the Franciscan students on the trip, saying that she knew that the students would be passionate about fighting for the pro-life cause.
“I know Steubenville students are solid and faithful Christians,” Stanek said. “I knew that them being involved with this would mean excellence and a genuine interest in this campaign and helping the pro-lifer win.”
Several media outlets covered the SBA List campaign, including The National Review, Buzzfeed, Vox, Huffington Post and Slate. Politico and the Washington Post credited the last-minute push with making the difference in the incredibly tight race.
According to statistics put out by SBA List, the 70 canvassers visited 17,000 homes and reached 23,000 voters. Of those, 58 percent of voters committed to vote for Lipinski, or roughly 13,340 voters. In a race that was decided by around 2,000 votes, the efforts of the SBA List canvassers in the weekend leading up to the primary could very well have been the deciding factor.
Having had that sort of impact on an election was something that deeply struck many students.
“It’s definitely humbling,” said sophomore Anthony Batalla. “The best political campaign is the one that’s the most personal, the one that takes the form of a conversation. This campaign was a solid example that every vote counts.”