Skip to comments.Redistricting gives senior congressman toughest race in half a century
Posted on 06/17/2002 8:26:50 PM PDT by LarryLied
Democratic Rep. John Dingell has taken on heads of multibillion-dollar corporations, Cabinet secretaries and presidents during his 47 years as a congressman. But he has had few real political challenges like the one he is facing this summer.
The most senior member of the House is looking at his toughest re-election bid in almost four decades, and the challenge is coming from a younger, more liberal congresswoman in his own party.
Rep. Lynn Rivers got her political start in the mid-1980s when she was frustrated with her daughter's reading program and ran for the school board.
Neither candidate wants to be in this race, but the two have been pitted against each other because of redistricting by the Republican-controlled Legislature that will oust at least three sitting Democrats. Michigan is losing one seat in Congress because of reapportionment.
The Michigan redistricting plan was one of the Republicans' most successful in the nation, damaging Democrats' chances of retaking control of the House.
In another suburban Detroit district, Rep. David Bonior, who rose to the second-ranking Democratic position in the House, was put in the same district as Rep. Sander Levin. He is leaving Congress to run for governor, a decision he said was not prompted by redistricting. In the Flint area, Rep. James Barcia is running for state Senate rather than enter a primary race against Rep. Dale Kildee.
But Rivers and Dingell have refused to step aside, meaning one will be ousted by voters in the Ann Arbor-area district south and west of Detroit in the Aug. 6 primary.
The 75-year-old Dingell began serving in Congress in 1955, a year before the 45-year-old Rivers was even born. He won the seat in a special election after his father died in office. He is now the ranking Democrat and former chairman of the powerful House Commerce Committee.
Dingell has had only one serious contest, in 1964, and it was also against a Democratic incumbent after redistricting. He beat Rep. John Lesinski and has been re-elected easily since.
"This job should go to the person who can best serve the district and the people," he said. "It should go to the person who has the best record of accomplishment."
Rivers was elected to Congress eight years ago after serving in the state House and on the Ann Arbor school board. This year, she resisted pressure to run in a neighboring congressional district with no incumbent.
"John and I have been friends since I came to Congress. At first, I was intimidated by him because of his aura," she said. "But this is a community I've represented since 1984, and I had no intention of moving."
A May 29-June 3 poll of 400 likely primary voters gave Dingell 52 percent to Rivers' 42 percent, with a margin of error of plus or minus 5 points.
Craig Ruff, president of Public Sector Consultants, said that while Dingell has more money and clout, Rivers is running on the issues that may appeal to Democratic primary voters.
"It could be a blowout for Dingell when it's all over and done with," he said. "But as of right now, it's not that way. It's still competitive. She's fighting a much harder fight than people thought was possible."
Rivers says three issues set her apart from Dingell - she consistently supports abortion rights, strict gun control and environmental laws, including stricter clean-air standards opposed by Detroit's auto industry.
Dingell is one of auto industry's staunchest allies. He is willing to buck the Democratic Party on environmental votes that could hurt automakers.
But he is an avid outdoorsman and has promoted legislation to protect wildlife. He has generally opposed gun control but has voted for gun-safety programs and background checks. Similarly, Dingell has supported abortion rights but opposes so-called partial-birth abortion.
Much of Dingell's financial support has come from the auto industry and other business interests. Rivers is raising less money but has been helped by Emily's List, a network of donors who support women in favor of abortion rights.
I'll back the GOP rep in this race if I lived there, but the only chance a GOP'er would have a chance is if a Geoff Fieger dem was the nominee. The only GOP'er to win this district was John Engler over Fieger.
No Republican would have much of a chance(Although Engler won it against Fieger). Monroe County is a blue dog Swing area. East Wastenaw is dem with ultraleft Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. Southern Wayne County is union autoworker country.