Though United States Rep. John Dingell (D–Mich.) is somewhat of an institution in the 15th District, he has been recently amping up his campaign activity in the waning weeks of this election season, suggesting he may not hold the comfortable lead his campaign has enjoyed in the past.
In his last re-election bid, Dingell rode easily to victory, besting his challenger by a 45-percent margin. In this election season however — mirroring Democratic electoral hardships around the country — it appears as though Dingell’s race might be closer than usual. In recent weeks, Dingell’s press office has highlighted a slew of federal appropriations the 28-term congressman has secured for the district. Furthermore, both Dingell and his Republican opponent Rob Steele’s campaigns have been hard at work organizing rallies on campus. Both have also been disputing recent polling data, indicating that this year might be one of the closest races for the 15th district in recent election cycles.
As part of the race, Dingell and Steele brought their campaigns to campus this week. Former President Bill Clinton and other Democratic candidates spoke at a Dingell for Congress rally on Sunday at Rackham Auditorium. Likewise, Steele’s campaign held a rally on the Diag Wednesday night.
Though a recent poll published on the race by the Detroit Free Press and WXYZ-TV shows Dingell ahead by a 17-percent margin, polls throughout the race have varied.
According to another recent poll, Dingell was trailing Steele by four points in the race. The results of the poll showed Steele leading with 43.8 percent of the vote, compared to Dingell’s 39.5 percent, leaving about 11 percent of voters undecided and Dingell supporters concerned. Dingell is the longest-serving U.S. congressman with 55 years in the House under his belt.
Following the release of the Oct. 8 poll, the Dingell campaign claimed that The Rossman Group, one of the two partnering firms that conducted the poll, has Republican ties.
Conducted by TelCom in partnership with The Rossman Group, the poll consisted of an automated phone survey of a random sample of 300 voters across Michigan’s 15th congressional district.
Betsy Barrett, communications director for Dingell’s campaign, wrote in an e-mail interview that the polling group has definitive ties to the Republican Party. She added that the Dingell campaign’s own polling has Dingell up by double digits.
“This is a GOP poll conducted by a firm with GOP ties masquerading as an independent poll,” Barrett wrote.
Steele, however, said he thinks The Rossman Group poll’s results are accurate, and he doesn’t think the polling organizations have any ties to the GOP. He said he feels very good about his position going into the last leg of the race.
“(Dingell’s) approval rating is not going up,” Steele said. “My approval rating over the four polls has gone up significantly, and my name recognition has gone up significantly.”
Josh Hovey, senior account executive for The Rossman Group, said the company’s poll produced accurate results and is consistent with other polls.
“It’s fairly reliable,” Hovey said. “Our polls on a statewide level, at least, have shown that we’ve been within the margin of error of every other major poll.”
Adrienne Hansel, chief operating officer of Team TelCom, wrote in an e-mail interview that the results of the poll are accurate.
“Numbers from our statewide automated polls that we have conducted in the past eight weeks are statistically in the margin of error as all other publicly published polls that use live callers to gather the data,” Hansel wrote.
Both Hovey and Hansel said their firms don’t have ties to any political party.
“Ownership of our firm is bi-partisan … (and our) goal is to do the best job of providing accurate data to our clients,” Hansel wrote. “We do work for both Republicans and Democrats. Our business gains nothing by favoring one party over other.”
But Mike Traugott, a communications studies professor at the University, said the reliability of the polling technique is questionable.
“I have commented for some time publicly about these computerized polls, automatic dialer polls,” Traugott said. “I don’t think that they’re very good work.”
Traugott said contributing factors like low-response rates, a non-representative sample or the types of questions asked could all introduce bias into the poll.
Vincent Hutchings, a political science professor at the University, also said that automated polls like these produce uncertain results.
“I know there’s a lot of controversy about them,” Hutchings said. “People were somewhat skeptical, at least experts are.”
Hutchings added that even if the poll was conducted correctly, relying on only one poll could result in an inaccurate prediction for next Tuesday’s election.
“Let’s assume they’re utilizing the gold standard in every respect, it’s still just one poll,” he said.
Despite the Dingell campaign’s own polling that shows the incumbent congressman is ahead in the race, Dingell has announced other federal funding for multiple projects in the city and surrounding areas in the lead-up to election days.
Dingell, together with local, state and federal transportation officials, announced $161 million in federal dollars to fund a new high-speed rail line in Southeast Michigan yesterday.
The U.S. Department of Transportation funds will go toward projects including the repair of the AMTRAK line between Detroit and Dearborn, the construction of a West Detroit bridge and tracks, and a planning analysis of a track going from Detroit to Chicago, according to a press release issued by Dingell yesterday. These new transportation projects will spur economic growth in the surrounding communities and make the region more competitive, according to an e-mail statement from Adam Benson, Dingell’s press secretary.
And though this announcement comes five days before the Nov. 2 midterm election, Benson wrote that the timing of yesterday’s announcement was not purposefully scheduled for less than a week before the congressional race comes to a close.
“There is no relation,” Benson wrote. “Both the HSR announcement and last week’s $600 million (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant announcements were initiated by fiscal year 2010 appropriations.”
In recent press releases, Dingell has highlighted various other city projects that will employ federal funds secured by Dingell. These projects include $249 million for A123 Systems — an Ann Arbor-based battery technology company — to expand operations in Michigan’s 15th district. Dingell has also been a constant advocate for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, making sure these funds make their way to Michigan and the 15th district.
Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje said Dingell has consistently supported Ann Arbor throughout his 55 years in office and the deluge of federally-funded projects isn’t specific to campaign season. City projects like renovating bridges and replacing Ann Arbor’s old buses with new hybrid models have all been funded by federal appropriations that were fought for by Dingell, Hieftje said.
“He’s helped us throughout the years in myriad projects that has involved federal funding,” Hieftje said.
Dingell recently lobbied for a $1 million federal grant for the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority to rebuild the Blake Transit Center.
Mary Stasiak, manager of community relations for AATA, said the authority is grateful to have Dingell’s support for the city’s various undertakings.
“Congressman Dingell has been a strong supporter of public transportation,” Stasiak said. “This is reflected in his support of appropriations to annual transit funding and most recently the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.”
Conversely, a main focus of Steele’s campaign has been advocating for curbing government expenditures.
“The spending going on right now will absolutely rob (students) of any opportunity and (their) job will basically be to supply the government debt payments,” Steele said.