Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 8, 2016

Will Debbie Dingell Succeed Her Husband in Congress?

Dingell, left, announced his retirement this morning. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

For the first time in 81 years, Michigan Democrats are contemplating a Congress without a Dingell.

Maybe not.

Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Mich., announced his retirement on Monday, finishing his 29th full term in the House after succeeding his father in the southeastern Michigan district. In the wake of his announcement, Democrats are already touting the congressman’s wife, Debbie, as the most serious contender for his seat.

(Update: Indeed, Debbie Dingell is expected to announce her candidacy on Friday.)

The first clue the Dingell legacy could continue? In his retirement remarks, the congressman praised his wife for her “hard” work for the district.

“I want to express my thanks and gratitude to the Lovely Deborah,” Dingell said on Monday. “She has been tireless, devoted, and worked just as hard—if not harder—for this district throughout the years.”

Debbie Dingell, a longtime fixture in Washington and Michigan Democratic politics, married John Dingell over three decades ago. Efforts to reach Debbie Dingell for comment were unsuccessful, but Democrats have long speculated she could run for Congress.

On Monday, the consensus among well-placed Michigan Democrats is that Debbie Dingell is moving quickly to consolidate support for run.

Although she shares a last name with her husband, Dingell has cut her own profile as a former General Motors executive, Democratic National Committeewoman and current chair of the Manufacturing Initiative of the American Automotive Policy Council. In 2013, she passed on a Senate run to succeed retiring Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.

If she runs, Debbie Dingell boasts huge name identification. She’s also on the radar of EMILY’s List, an organization that backs female Democrats who support abortion rights.

However, there’s no guarantee that the field will be cleared for her if she does run. Any primary rival would will likely come from the Ann Arbor area.

In 2002, Michigan mapmakers married John Dingell’s blue-collar Detroit-area district with now-former Rep. Lynn Rivers’ Ann Arbor-based district. Twelve years after Dingell won that member-vs.-member race, Michigan Democrats say the district’s two population centers remain very different and there is a potential for a rehash of that regional rivalry.

In the next and latest round of redistricting in 2012, the current 12th District maintained much of the same geography.

As a result, not everyone in Michigan is convinced that Debbie Dingell will have a cleared path to the nomination, and in effect, the seat. Regardless of party politics, this is a safe Democratic seat. President Barack Obama carried the 12th District twice by more than a two-to-one margin.

“You’ve gotta think Debbie Dingell is the front-runner, but there are a lot of other people who are impressive,” a Michigan Democratic insider said in September for the Michigan edition of Roll Call’s Farm Team series.

Like any district with a long-entrenched incumbent, local operatives say a number of politicians have waited patiently for an open-seat race. But few names immediately surfaced as operatives processed the news.

A handful of operatives pointed to state Sen. Rebekah Warren, a Democrat based in Ann Arbor.

“Today is Mr. Dingell’s day,” said Warren, declining to address her future plans. “Today, we honor and celebrate Mr. Dingell’s record of accomplishment.”

One person who will not be running is Rivers.

“I am out of the game nowadays,” she emailed to Roll Call. “I believe there are lots of up-and-coming young Dems whom I can support for that seat. I’ll watch from the sidelines.”

Regardless of whether the 12th District stays in the family, John Dingell’s retirement and the loss of his 58 years of seniority will be an adjustment for the region and the state.

“Today we are losing a lion,” said Michigan Democratic Chairman Lon Johnson, a former Dingell operative, in a Monday morning interview. “Not just in Michigan, but in Congress itself.”

Emily Cahn contributed to this report. 

  • Barry Shitepoke

    She was born a year before he was elected to office, who’s been doing her all these years?

  • Ken Shaffin

    Dead man walking. So another New Normal is that congressional seats are now an heirloom for trophy wives and children? Worked for Vicki Kennedy and Beau Biden real well, eh?

  • Lance Sjogren

    Perfect name for a member of Congress- Debbie Dingell.

  • Yashmak

    John Dingell is a prime example of the need for term limits, and yet here we have an article suggesting his wife should take over.


  • bagocheese

    Father, son, wife…..this is what America is about?


    Good riddance to him and as to her, fumigate Congress by preventing her entry! Red Buttons once called Don Rickles the “best argument against human cloning.” So are political dynasties!

  • Ronald W. Mann

    Ahh Detroit, that is quite a recommendation

  • Rick the liberal clubber

    Yeah what could go wrong electing another corrupt liberal in Michigan?


    Interesting that all of your examples are from the Democat party which believes so much in diversity.

  • fribble

    “Today we are losing a lion” SOB.

  • fribble

    No one.

  • Ihaveaclue Doyou

    C’mon Michigan, this is a democracy, not a monarchy. You don’t have to vote along family lineage for x-sakes.

  • crazymook

    pool boy

  • Crutch

    Can Michigan be that stupid? Really?

  • 2bvictorius

    It is Michigan, so I have no reason to doubt she will win if she runs. However, I actually believe the next Senator from Michigan may very well be a member of the Muslim brotherhood.

  • Gyst53

    The Dingell Dynasty will be hard to overcome, but the Republican/Tea Party landslide this November will more than offset any Democratic victory for this particular seat!

  • Susie Jones

    a political dynasty that needs to stop. my goodness, I hope the people of Michigan will wake up and send new blood to Congress. She is the wife of a Congressman, so not new blood……

  • TaterSalad

    1). “Let me remind you this [Americans allegedly dying because of lack of
    universal health care] has been going on for years. We are bringing it
    to a halt. The harsh fact of the matter is when you’re going to pass
    legislation that will cover 300 [million] American people in different
    ways it takes a long time to do the necessary administrative steps that
    have to be taken to put the legislation together to control the people.”


    The “best thing he ever did was Obamacare” –


  • shamu9

    Like I said Yesterday, Get Rid of the American Royals! Starting with Kennedy!

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