Deborah Dingell Faces Battle to Replace Retiring Husband

Monday, 24 Feb 2014 04:37 PM

By John Gizzi

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Image: Deborah Dingell Faces Battle to Replace Retiring Husband
Even before Democratic Rep. John Dingell of Michigan made his retirement announcement on Monday, speculation had been mounting on who would succeed the longest-serving member of Congress in U.S. history.

While many in Michigan's 12th District think it is "fait accompli" that Dingell will be succeeded by his wife, Deborah Dingell is sure to face a strong challenge if she runs in the August primary.

Moreover, area Republicans, who held Rep. Dingell to a modern career low of 56 percent in his 2010 re-election, assured Newsmax they will field a strong contender for the open seat in 2014.

Deborah Dingell is the state's Democratic National Committeewoman, a former lobbyist for General Motors, and current chairman of the Wayne State University Board of Governors.

Unfailingly referred to in public as "the lovely Deborah" by her husband, she is well-connected in social and business circles in Washington and her home state.

But there are many Democrats who, believing Deborah is more of a Washington insider than a part of the Wolverine State, will not swallow "Dingell after Dingell."

No sooner had Rep. Dingell's retirement become public Monday, than state Sen. Rebekah Warren of Washtenaw County signaled she might run to succeed him. A fervent backer of left-of-center causes, Warren reportedly can count on funding from national liberal groups.

Deborah Dingell was briefly mentioned last year as a candidate for U.S. senator after veteran Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan announced his retirement. But she deferred to Wayne County-area Rep. Gary Peters, who is now locked in a tight race against Republican Terri Lynn Land heading toward the November election.

"Dingell after Dingell" would be a continuation of a family saga begun in 1933 in the district encompassing the Dearborn-Ypsilanti area.

Riding on Franklin Roosevelt's long coattails, John Dingell, Sr., father of the present congressman, came to Congress representing what was then Michigan 15th District.

John Jr. worked as a congressional page in the 1930s, met FDR several times, and was on the House floor when President Roosevelt asked for a declaration of war following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

When the senior Dingell died in 1955, young John — then 29 and serving as an assistant prosecutor in Wayne County — entered the race to succeed him and defeated a crowded field of older Democratic officeholders.

Now the man colleagues universally call "Big John" is finally calling it quits after 59 years in office, and will step down as the longest-serving member of Congress in history after having surpassed Robert Byrd's 57 years in the Capitol.

One Republican being named as a possible candidate for Dingell's seat is cardiologist Rob Steele, who made a spirited campaign against Dingell in 2010 but fell short of winning, 53 percent to 44 percent. Steele has remained active in GOP politics and would easily be the strongest Republican contender.

"But I'm not going to run," Steele told Newsmax Monday. "The major reason is we already have a very strong and good candidate in Terry Bowman, and I am proud to support Terry after all he has done."

A card-carrying member of the United Auto Workers who works at a plant in Ypsilanti, Bowman was a founder of Union Conservatives" and a mover and shaker behind "Freedom to Work" — the Michigan right-to-work law that was finally signed into law by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder in 2012. Bowman told reporters earlier this year he was prepared to run against either Dingell.

For his part, John Dingell insists that, while he uses a cane and wheelchair to get around, his health was not the key factor in his decision to step down. Rather, it was the decline of cooperation between the parties in the institution he grew up in.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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