The race between the two major Democratic candidates vying to return to their seat in the U.S. House of Representatives is picking up pace as Michigan voters face a plethora of candidates to choose from in this summer’s primary.

Paul Wong
Paul Wong

Rep. John Dingell, the most senior member of the House and currently the 16th District incumbent, and Rep. Lynn Rivers, the 13th District incumbent, will have to run against each other in this fall’s primary as a result of their political bases being thrown into one congressional district due to the decennial redistricting process. The plan was approved late last year by the Republican-controlled state Legislature and GOP Gov. John Engler.

Dingell has been a congressman since 1955, when he won a special election to succeed his father, John Dingell, following the elder Dingell’s death. He represents much of western Wayne County and currently resides in Dearborn.

Rivers has been a congresswoman since 1995. Prior to her election, she served in the state House for two years and she currently resides in Ann Arbor.

The Democratic primary is considered mostly determinant of the area’s representative in Congress because the district is predominantly Democratic. The winner of this primary will face Martin Kaltenbach of Dearborn, who is unopposed in his quest for the Republican nomination.

Rivers, a University alum and Ann Arbor resident, formally kicked off her campaign at a June 20 rally on the Diag, during which she outlined her principle issues-gun control, a woman’s right to an abortion, the environment and keeping grants and loans available for college students. She talked about how she believes her background as a young mother allows her to understand the people she represents.

Her background is also illuminated in her television ad campaign. Ads began running on June 24, showing Rivers as a teenager who wed “right out of high school,” who was raising two children by age 21 and a student working her way through college.

“I came to Congress with a particular perspective. Congress tends to be a pretty prosperous place,” Rivers said, adding that she has had the experiences of searching for change in couches and going without health care. “That’s real life. That’s how everyday people are struggling to make it week by week. That’s the voice I want to bring to Congress, and that’s the voice I want to make sure stays in Congress.”

Dingell’s kicked off his campaign about a month ago, focusing on his reputation and pull in the House. In an elected body in which seniority often greatly affects one’s affect, Dingell is currently the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, through which travels approximately half of all legislation in the House. He would again become committee chairman if Democrats regained the House.

“One of the highest compliments I’ve been paid is to have been called effective,” Dingell said in a written statement to kick-off his campaign. “That tells me I’ve done something right – that I’ve been able to deliver. It means that I’ve established the proper friendships and also that I’ve made the right enemies.”

His campaign also notes his background and how he raised his four children by himself after he divorced his first wife.

A recent poll by the Detroit Free Press showed Dingell with 45 percent of district voters leaning toward him with 35 percent doing the same for her.

But many University students seem to be supporting Rivers over Dingell and polls have shown that University-aged and female voters generally support Rivers. The Free Press poll showed Dingell having the support of only 28 percent of likely voters with college degrees, trailing Rivers, who had 54 percent of those likely voters.

School of Education graduate student Lisa Ehrlich said that although she is still looking at both of the candidates, she is leaning toward Rivers.

“Idealistically, I would love to have a candidate who believes in what I believe in,” Ehrlich said, adding that the issues that matter the most to her are gun safety, education, women’s right to choose and health benefits, all of which are issues central to Rivers’ campaign.

Central to Dingell’s campaign are issues involving affordable health care, Social Security, protecting jobs, the environment and pension plans.

The more moderate Democrat Dingell has won the endorsement of the 13th Congressional District Democratic Organization-the party organization in Rivers’ current district-the Alliance for Retired Americans as well as the Michigan Teamsters, the United Auto Workers and the AFL-CIO. Formally endorsing Rivers are the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, the Million Mom March organization, the Human Rights Campaign, EMILY’s List, the Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, and The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Education student Ehrlich said that even though Rivers may not have the seniority or pull of her adversary, she believes that if enough voters support Rivers, her influence will increase.

School of Public Policy student Jen McCormick, who said she supports Rivers, also said she did not believe Dingell’s extra pull in the House should have an affect on people’s votes.

“He could be getting things done, but I don’t think he’ll be getting the things done that we want done. He’s not my representative,” she said, questioning that if seniority is the key to being an effective representative, “when do younger people with fresh ideas … get their chance?”

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