Experts say Debbie Dingell, the wife of retiring Michigan Democratic Rep. John Dingell,
will likely seek his longtime seat and continue the family's political dynasty in the state.
Debbie Dingell is widely seen in Michigan and on a national level as a Democratic Party powerhouse in her own right, far more than just the spouse of a powerful politician.
David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report says Michigan's 12th Congressional District remains favorable to the Dingells, and Debbie Dingell would be considered the favorite candidate, The Detroit Free Press
The couple has a longstanding political base in Dearborn and the surrounding area, and President Barack Obama won re-election in the district in 2012 with 66 percent of the vote, Wasserman said.
"However, the liberal college town of Ann Arbor was added to the 12th CD in the post-2000 round of redistricting, and the only question is whether an Ann Arbor-style 'progressive' candidate such as state Sen. Rebekah Warren enters the race," Wasserman said. "Even if she does, Dingell would be considered the favorite, considering only about a quarter of the 12th CD's primary votes come from Ann Arbor."
Lansing-based political consultant T.J. Bucholz told The Detroit News
that the retiring congressman's wife "would be the prohibitive favorite in the race" should she decide to run.
"I think sometimes Debbie Dingell gets a knock that she's just a wife of a congressman, or she wouldn't necessarily be up to the task. I don't think that's true. There are plenty of serving congressmen and women in this country who bring less to the table than Debbie Dingell does right now."
Debbie Dingell, at 60, has been a Democratic National Committee representative for Michigan for years and is a former president of the General Motors Foundation. While she has not announced her intentions for her husband's congressional seat, last year she decided not to seek a run for the U.S. Senate to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, saying she did not want to be in a costly primary with U.S. Rep. Gary Peters.
Her husband, at 87, has been in the U.S. House since winning his late father's seat in 1955, after the elder Dingell was elected to Congress in 1932. John Dingell last June became the longest-serving member
of Congress, passing the record held by late Sen. Robert Byrd., D-W.Va.
"I'm not going to be carried out feet first," Dingell told The Detroit News. "I don't want people to say I stayed too long."
The retiring congressman, who has served with every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower, is the former chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. Over the years, he has been a master of legislative deal-making and staunch advocate for the U.S. auto industry, and played a role in a number of major laws, including Obamacare.
His wife, who is also the chairwoman of the Wayne State University Board of Governors, stresses bipartisanship, like her husband, and has organized the state's inaugural ball for years, regardless of which party took the presidency.
Terry Bowman, who is a founder of Union Conservatives, has said that he'd be prepared to run as a Republican against either Dingell, because she is so closely tied to his office. "I would be running the same campaign, whether it would be against John or Debbie."
Bucholz said Debbie Dingell is a polarizing factor in the Democratic Party, but her husband has so much political influence that his endorsement could stop a tough primary election.
"Debbie Dingell has political gravitas. John Dingell has three times more," Bucholz said. "No one in Michigan will second-guess Congressman Dingell on who should be his replacement. If they do, it wouldn't be in public."
She has also created her own political identity, including working to move up Michigan's Democratic primary in 2008 to Jan. 15 to help the state have more influence during campaigns.
The couple have been married since 1981, and John Dingell has said he does little without consulting with his wife first.
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