You may know National Memo’s executive editor Jason Sattler by ribald alter ego, @LOLGOP. Sattler, the sober Michigan-based political analyst, who maintains a 168,000 strong twitter following as a liberal humorist, shocked the political world on Monday when he revealed that he is strongly considering making a run at the retiring Rep. John Dingell’s (D-MI) seat.
He qualified his interest in a congressional bid, however, when he added that he would defer to Dingell’s wife, Deborah Dingell, who has long intimated that she plans to replace her husband when he finally retired:
— Slade Sohmer (@SladeHV) February 24, 2014
(UPDATE) Listen to the segment below via SiriusXM:
It is understandable that Sattler would not want to ruffle any feathers in the Democratic Party by sparking a potentially divisive primary fight. If he did, however, pull the trigger, he would not only be a competitive candidate, he might quickly become a symbol of Democratic vibrancy.
First, let’s dig into some of the fundamentals that will govern the race to replace Dingell. Michigan’s 12 congressional district has a Cook Report Partisan Voting Index of +14 points Democratic. The congressional primary in that district is, essentially, the general election. And that district –- in its various incarnations –- has sent a Dingell to Congress every year since 1932. That’s right; before John Dingell Jr., Rep. John Dingell Sr. (D-MI) served as a member of Michigan’s congressional delegation.
Deborah Dingell has expressed some level of interest in her husband’s seat for decades. She has been an active participant in Democratic politics in both the District and in Michigan for years, is a board member on a variety of Detroit-area charities, and chaired the Michigan branch of both then Sen. John Kerry’s (D-MA) and former Vice President Al Gore’s presidential campaigns.
But everything that makes her a capable and qualified candidate, as well as the prohibitive favorite to succeed her husband, could just as easily become liabilities. Dingell is a registered lobbyist for General Motors and has made millions associating with that company. In 2010, The Washington Post strongly questioned whether, in spite of the lack of violations of legal prohibitions governing collusion between public and private entities, if the union between an auto industry lobbyist and one of the architects of the auto bailout flirted with a violation of ethical standards of conduct. Furthermore, Dingell has been floated as a potential candidate for every statewide office that has become vacant in nearly the last 20 years. The surname Dingell screams Washington as much if not more than Michigan, and at a time when there is nothing popular about Washington.
For all the headaches that upstart challengers cause the Republican Party’s elders, they also serve to revitalize the party. And primary challenges have practical benefits for the GOP – they increase awareness among conservative activists in their candidates, increase voter registration, and drive donations which the ultimately victorious candidate can in general elections. In a competitive race, primary challenges can wound a candidate prior to the general election. In a primary race in a safely partisan district like Michigan’s 12th, however, the general is barely a concern.
In early February, National Journal’s Alex Seitz-Wald lamented how Hillary Clinton’s potential presidential candidacy is blocking the development of new blood within the Democratic Party. That same argument carried the day in 2008, when a fresh-faced and relatively unknown candidate showed that the American electorate was hungry for something different. Inevitability in politics can be an illusory thing.
The Democratic voters in Michigan’s 12th, most of whom have never voted for anyone not named Dingell in their lives, might just be of a mood to take a risk on sending some new blood to Congress.
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