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Dingell Dynasty Could Continue In Michigan


87-year-old John Dingell, the longest-serving member in the history of Congress, retires at the end of his current term. When he goes, another Dingell hopes to win his seat. Today, in the city of Dearborn, in the heart of Michigan's 12th district, Debbie Dingell, the congressman's wife, announced her candidacy. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Just four days ago, Congressman Dingell said he found serving in the U.S. House these days to be, quote, "obnoxious." He echoed that in a speech that day. Dingell, once a hulking bear of a man, has grown frail physically. His voice reflects that, as well.

REP. JOHN DINGELL: Like many of you, I have found great disappointment in this Congress. I want you to know this is not the reason that Debbie and I are leaving the Congress.

GONYEA: He said the reason is that after nearly six decades, he knows that it's time to leave the stage for him and his wife, who has been a very public, very visible partner, to come home. But today, it became official that the Dingell family is not yet ready to leave the U.S. Congress.

DEBBIE DINGELL: Yes, I am a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Michigan's 12th congressional district.


GONYEA: That's Debbie Dingell, who at age 60, is 28 years younger than her husband. She spoke to supporters at a Panera Bread bakery-coffee shop in Dearborn.

DEBBIE DINGELL: So let's be clear. I am not running to replace John Dingell. I think he's irreplaceable. But I wouldn't run if I didn't think I could do a good job for my friends and my neighbors, many of whom are here.

GONYEA: She said both with her husband and on her own, she's long fought for issues important to the working people of the district and that she'll continue that in Congress. Debbie Dingell, once a lobbyist for General Motors, comes from the Fisher family, as in Body by Fisher of General Motors fame. She does indeed have a strong political identity of her own, according to Bill Ballenger of the newsletter Inside Michigan Politics.

BILL BALLENGER: She has been a behind-the-scenes mover and shaker, facilitator, orchestrator for years. She's made herself a force within the Democratic Party.

GONYEA: Ballenger says perhaps the most interesting thing to watch will be the degree to which her positions diverge from those of her husband. Today, she did cite one big difference they have over regulation of firearms. John Dingell is a former board member of the National Rifle Association. Debbie Dingell was asked about that issue. She didn't hesitate.

DEBBIE DINGELL: I lived with someone that shouldn't have had access to guns.

GONYEA: She's referring to her own father who battled depression. She was asked about background checks.

DEBBIE DINGELL: Right. That's automatic that we need to be doing background checks. The biggest problem on background checks is how do you identify someone that's mentally ill?

GONYEA: Debbie Dingell is expected to face at least one challenger for the Democratic Party nomination in this heavily Democratic district. But her record as an activist, combined with her family clout, make her the heavy favorite. Don Gonyea, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Don Gonyea
You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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