Rep. John Dingell is 84 years old. He is the only sitting member of Congress who was elected when a veteran of the Civil War was still alive. If Dingell wins again in November, it will be his 28th consecutive reelection victory. Dingell and his late father have represented Michigan’s 15th congressional district for over 75 years.
So it’s more than a little odd that one of Dingell’s campaign ads begins with the narration, “across America, you can feel it. Change is coming.”
Change may be coming indeed. Dingell is in electoral danger for the first time in many years because of a voter backlash against President Obama and Democratic control of both chambers of Congress.
According to the man who could oust this aging congressional giant, Republican candidate Rob Steele, people tell him that they just wish Dingell would call it a career.
“I’m a doctor and I see patients all day long and I hear that on a regular basis from my patients that, you know, ‘I’ve voted for him 25 times, but not anymore,'” Steele said, adding that voters regularly tell him they wish Dingell would retire.
A recent poll bears this out. Although Dingell is touting the results, which show him well ahead of Steele, the poll also shows that a 47-42 majority think it’s “time to give someone new a chance.”
While Dingell is trying to portray Steele as a radical in negative campaign ads, Steele said he’s hardly ideological.
“My campaign literally has been on three things. Stop the spending. Let the grandkids decide how to spend their own money. Every family has to do it, the government can too. Number two, accountability. Make Congress follow the laws they pass. Make ‘em read the bill before they vote it. Number three, this idea of transparency. Shorter bills, one topic. One change for a week before anybody votes,” Steele said.
“I don’t talk about really anything other than these three things, because if you take care of those three things, the people will work out the answers to the problems very quickly,” Steele said.
In fact, Steele distances himself from the views of some Tea Party candidates who argue, for instance, that Social Security and Medicare might be unconstitutional.
“I’m a normal guy!” Steele said.
In one of the more unique attack lines this election cycle, Steele is criticizing Dingell for a vote he took over 45 years ago.
“There’s only two congressman in the House of Representatives right now who voted to take Social Security out of its own account and allow it into the general fund, and John Dingell is one of them. Up until 1965 the Social Security funds couldn’t be used in the general budget, and in 1965 John Dingell voted to turn those funds into the general ledger and be used for any purpose,” Steele said.
Time will tell if Steele, a political neophyte by his own account, will be able to raise his stature enough to defeat Dingell.
“I just stopped working as a doctor last Tuesday, and now I’m on the campaign trail,” Steele said, “I’ve never been involved in partisan politics at all.”
Dingell’s office did not return a phone call for comment.