February 28, 2014 at 11:33 pm

In campaign launch, Dingell draws distinctions from her husband's career

Debbie Dingell announces her congressional run in Dearborn on Friday while being surrounded by her close friends and supporters. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)

Dearborn — Debbie Dingell kicked off her congressional campaign Friday by conceding her husband U.S. Rep. John Dingell is “irreplaceable,” but stressing her experience and sometimes differing views with the retiring congressman would help the 12th Congressional District.

Dingell, chairwoman of the Wayne State University Board of Governors, told supporters she is committed to making education affordable and accessible to families, protecting the environment and ensuring the voices of Michigan workers are heard in Washington.

“I want to be there when jobs, manufacturing and the trade policy that affects Michigan businesses — large and small — are discussed,” she said.

Dingell, 60, is the first Democrat to announce her bid for the Aug. 5 primary in a heavily Democratic district that includes much of Downriver Detroit, Dearborn and the greater Ann Arbor area. Another Democrat, state Sen. Rebekah Warren of Ann Arbor, said Friday she is launching an exploratory committee so she can legally test the waters for a run for Congress.

Dingell made the announcement in her hometown Friday morning, four days after her husband, also a Democrat, said he won’t seek re-election. Congress was in session on Friday, which prevented John Dingell from attending, she said.

Dingell also stressed to reporters that she has different views than her husband.

“I’ve learned a lot from John Dingell. Like any married couple, we don’t agree on everything and as we go down the road there may be some differences,” she said. “I’m not going to try to be John Dingell. I’m going to be Debbie Dingell.”

One difference between the couple is their position on gun control. John Dingell is a lifelong supporter of the right to bear arms, while Debbie Dingell has spoken out for gun control measures.

“That is an issue that we do not agree on,” she said. “We come from very different perspectives.”

An Inside Michigan Politics-sponsored poll released Friday found Dingell is the early Democratic front-runner. A poll of 813 likely Democratic primary voters found 51 percent support Dingell, while state Sen. Rebekah Warren of Ann Arbor received 15.7 percent and three other state representatives got single-digit backing. In a head-to-head matchup, Dingell got 56 percent to Warren’s 22 percent.

“Whether Debbie Dingell faces a crowded primary or just one opponent, barring some monumental surprise, the data supports the popular wisdom that it is her seat to lose,” said Dennis Darnoi, an analyst with Revsix who worked with Lansing-based Main Street Strategies on the poll.

The automated-call poll had a margin of error of plus-minus 3.4 percentage points.

Warren cast herself as being part of a new wave of Democratic leaders in making her announcement.

“We expect more from our national leaders than we’ve been getting lately, and frankly we deserve more,” Warren said on her exploratory committee website, anewmichigan.com. “Let’s explore together whether we can give Michigan a new generation of leadership and restore the promise of the American dream.”

By contrast, Dingell told the crowd at Panera Bread she commended Rep. Dingell’s wisdom and experience and said his retirement leaves big shoes to fill.

“There is no one in this district — no one — who has a better sense of just how big his shoes will be to fill, because I’m the one who does the shoe shopping,” she joked Friday during her first stop in a three-city Friday tour that included Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

If she is successful, Debbie Dingell will be the third consecutive Dingell to represent Metro Detroit since 1933.

John Dingell Jr., 87, is the longest-serving member in congressional history and has represented Metro Detroit for more than 59 years. His father, John Dingell Sr., served 22 years. The father and son hold the record in American history for longest consecutive service for a single family, which will hit 81 years on Tuesday.

Debbie Dingell is a longtime Michigan member of the Democratic National Committee who last year decided against a bid for the U.S. Senate to replace Carl Levin, D-Detroit, who also is retiring. But she said she felt the time was right.

“I wouldn’t run if I didn’t think I could do a good job for my friends and neighbors and for the men and women of labor that I’ve worked with side-by-side to fight for the jobs and businesses of Michigan,” she said.

Dearborn Mayor John O’Reilly introduced Dingell on Friday, noting the “unrivaled” breadth of her knowledge and experience.

“In order to be effective in Washington, you have to know Washington and Washington needs to know you,” O’Reilly said. “It’s so important that if we are sending a freshman to Washington ... that person should have the ability to get known. She has it. She’s familiar with her district.”

He added: “I can’t wait to see her take on Washington on our behalf.”

Dearborn resident Whitney Heyde, a self-described staunch Republican, belongs to a coffee group that frequently interacts with Debbie Dingell at the Michigan Avenue restaurant. He was there Friday to support her candidacy.

“She’s just a wonderful person, and she works so hard,” said Heyde, 59. “I think she’s a great candidate and probably the first Democrat I’m going to vote for.”

Terry Bowman of Ypsilanti, founder of Union Conservatives, is scheduled to announce his candidacy for the Republican nomination on Monday.

Candidates for Congress have until April 22 to submit at least 1,000 petition signatures to make the August primary ballot.

Dingell said she’s up for the challenge.

“I’ve spent my entire career trying to make a difference outside of government, and now I want to bring that same commitment and experience to Congress,” she said. “So I’m beginning one giant job interview with the people of the 12th District.”

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Staff Writer Marisa Schultz contributed.