Conyers affirms staying power with convincing win
Detroit – U.S. Rep. John Conyers on Tuesday survived his closest election in more than 20 years and he did so with ease, defeating Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey by more than 20 percentage points in the 13th congressional district Democratic primary.
Considered the “dean of the House” as the longest continuously serving member, the 87-year-old civil rights icon has faced primary challenges in the past three election cycles, but his strong showings suggest the job may be his as long as he wants it, political experts said Wednesday.
“You’ve got a political class that lusts for that seat, but voters are clearly happy with their representation,” said Democratic political consultant Joe Disano.
Winfrey, a longtime city clerk who won more votes than Mayor Mike Duggan in her successful 2013 re-election bid, was considered a serious challenger before falling to Conyers by double digits.
Conyers defeated the Rev. Horace Sheffield III by more than 50 points in the 2014 primary after a petition signature issue that almost kept him off the ballot. In 2012, he topped his nearest primary competitor, former state Sen. Glenn Anderson of Westland, by 37 points.
The primary challenges are a recent phenomenon. State election records show Conyers went at least 14 years without competition from a fellow Democrat until the past six years.
“The results show that the only one restless for a changing of the guard is somebody who wants the job,” said political consultant Steve Hood, who worked for the Conyers campaign in 2014. “The people aren’t restless. Look at the percentage the guy won by.”
In the general election, Conyers will face Republican Jeff Gorman, whom he defeated by more than 60 points in 2014.
Winfrey argued that Conyers has begun “to diminish” and is no longer serving his constituents well as he once did.
But questions over Conyers’ mental acuity have not hindered his electability, Hood said. The congressman is likely to keep winning elections in Detroit, he said, unless he “really stumbles” and does something “really stupid” because of his age.
“I feel he’s at least as sharp as Paul Ryan is,” Hood said, referencing the Republican speaker of the U.S. House. “He’s definitely sharper than Donald Trump, and on his worst day, he was sharper than Janice Winfrey will ever be,” echoing a criticism he made about Sheffield in 2014.
State. Sen. Bert Johnson, D-Highland Park, who helped run Conyers’ re-election campaign this year and in 2014, said his age and experience – along with his status as the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee – should be considered an asset .
Johnson inadvertently ran against Conyers in 2012, entering the race before Conyers moved into the 13th District after the Republican-led state Legislature redrew Michigan’s political map.
“I got what many would consider an unlucky draw,” Johnson said. “When you’re running against John Conyers, you’re running against the United States of America.”