The latest poll by the Detroit Free Press covering Michigan's 15th Congressional District race between Democrat John D. Dingell, Jr., and Republican Dr. Rob Steele, a cardiologist, puts Mr. Dingell comfortably ahead with 53 percent of the vote, and Steele with 36 percent of the vote. However, it should be noted that Mr. Dingell is polling uncomfortably close to 50 percent after 55 years in the House, and his fundraising efforts this time around have netted just over $1.6 million dollars. It's a healthy sum, but still almost half a million dollars less than Representative Dingell raised when he last ran in 2008.
According to a September 2, 2010 news story posted to Politico.com, Representative Dingell sent out a fundraising letter hinting he could be in trouble in November. The letter said, "This year I need your maximum financial contribution to my campaign." As of October 13th, according to FEC records, Mr. Dingell had raised $1.676 million dollars, almost 70 percent of which had come from PACs. He had $798,752 cash on hand. Dingell's opponent Dr. Rob Steele, unlike Dr. Dan Benishek, the Republican running in the Michigan 1st, has not received significant financial support from the NRCC, as recently reported by the Huffington Post. As of October 13, 2010, Steele had raised $662,611. Steele's cash on hand totaled $317,697.
Dingell, ahead in the polls, with more than double his opponent's cash on hand, and having out-fundraised the Republican candidate almost 3:1, is still jittery. On Sunday October 24th, the Dean of the House of Representatives is scheduled to host a joint appearance with President Bill Clinton on the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan. Brendan Campbell is the Chair of the College Democrats at the University of Michigan. In an email that went out on October 22nd Campbell wrote, "WOW. Just Wow. The response we've received about the GOTV rally with President Bill Clinton and Congressman John D. Dingell on Sunday has been incredible and, frankly, a little bit overwhelming. In less than 11 hours, over 1300 tickets were requested." The last Dingell appearance on campus did not come close to selling out: Clinton is obviously the big draw this time around.
So why the last minute call to Big Gun Bill Clinton to help Rep. Dingell squash the fly that is Dr. Rob Steele? Do Democrats fear John Dingell in a tight race? According to the Associated Press, "Clinton's staff says he has campaigned this year for more than 65 candidates at nearly 100 events." Each of those candidates is in a tight race.
The answer to the question of why the race for Michigan's 15th District seat could be too close for Dingell's comfort comes in the form of a pair of mailers sent out this week by the Michigan Republican Party. No matter how much money he raises, or how many endorsements he snags, John Dingell can't shake the "age" issue; he's 84-years-old, and this time around his longevity is a liability. The message of the first of the two mailers is diabolically direct. There's Ike. There's a penny from 1955. There's the 1955 television set. A second mailer, sent out shortly after the first, continues on with the attack against Dingell as having been in Washington "too long." There's the "new" 1955 Ford Thunderbird, and, yep, John Dingell. That mailer sent out by the Michigan Republican Party blames Dingell for "record spending and record unemployment."
Based on the modest spending of the Michigan Republican Party, and lack of spending by the NRCC in support of Rob Steele's bid to unseat John Dingell, it's clear that state and national Republican officials don't expect an upset. However, polling at 53 percent with 15 percent of voters still undecided, means the Dingell camp is taking nothing for granted. As a result, President Bill Clinton will add Michigan to his list of stopovers this election season.