Politico put pols in a tizzy last week when it suggested that Rep. John Dingell might be in trouble. The 84-year-old incumbent has held his seat since 1955, and he’s won over 60 percent of the vote in all but one of his contests. Yet his fundraising is lagging. He had raised only $1 million by July — $1 million less than he had by that time in 2008. Accordingly, Dingell recently sent a letter to donors warning, “This year I need your maximum financial contribution to my campaign.” And the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has just unleashed a website attacking his little-known Republican opponent, Robert Steele.
Today, Democrats are breathing more easily. The Detroit News and WDIV released a poll by the Glengariff Group that shows Dingell beating Steele by 19 points, 49.3 percent to 30.3 percent. Of note, however, is the fact that Dingell is barely below 50 percent — despite having 97.7 percent name recognition compared to Steele’s 49.5 percent. And when asked whether Dingell deserved reelection, only 42.5 percent of voters said yes. Forty-seven percent said “it was time to give someone new a chance.”
Steele tells NRO, “The news doesn’t bother me in the least.” His campaign plans to start airing ads today or tomorrow; and they, he hopes, will bridge the gap in name ID. Rather, he’s more fired up about the DCCC’s website, which calls him “an ultra-wealthy doctor who made millions off the broken health care system.”
“The fat cat is John Dingell who lived in DC since he was 7 years old and who gets all his money from PACs and special interests,” Steele, a 52-year-old cardiologist from Ann Arbor. “I’ve never participated in partisan politics in my life. . . . The real reason I’m running is I just couldn’t get to be 80 years old and look back and say I didn’t try to protect [our way of life] for my kids and grandkids.”
Steele says his number-one issue is spending. He considers Rep. John Boehner’s proposal to return federal spending to 2008’s levels “reasonable” and notes, “Michigan gets only 82 to 83 cents for every dollar we send to Washington, so Michigan is paying for this reckless spending.” He also wants to extend the Bush tax cuts and repeal much of President Obama’s new regulations. “They talk about having an infrastructure bank of $50 billion but they could unleash $900 billion by people who know how to hire people and build businesses. Why in the world would we want to take more money from these people when all they need to say is ‘Hey, business owners have at it!’?”
The odds are against Steele, but he thinks his message is powerful: “Imagine if Dingell were applying for a job in Michigan, and the employer asked, ‘Well, what happened during your time in Congress?’ Our state is aging faster than Florida and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman says Dingell is the person most responsible for the collapse of Detroit. That’s not a good resume.”
And if Steele slips his under enough voters’ doors, he might just land the job.