Tom Foley, the Sequel?
If we’re to assume that the 2010 midterm election is a repeat of the 1994 experience — a bad night all around for a first-term Democratic president and a Democratic-controlled Congress — here’s my question: name the old bull who’s unexpectedly tossed to the curb on Election Night?
In 1994, it was then-House Speaker Tom Foley. Running against the little-known George Nethercutt, who used the term-limit issue with great effect against an incumbent seeking his 16th term in Congress, Foley became the first sitting Speaker of the House to lose his seat in more than 130 years.
And in 2010: keep an eye on Michigan Rep. John Dingell, chairman emeritus of the all-powerful House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
Dingell? Seriously? We’re talking about the longest-serving member of the House — 55 years and counting.
Moreover, a Dingell male (both father and the currently serving son) has represented Michigan in Congress non-stop since 1932, with a third generation waiting in the wings if and (ever) when the 84-year-old incumbent steps down.
Besides, only once has John Dingell received less than 60% of the vote. And that was 59% in . . . you guessed it . . . 1994.
But that was then, this is now. The Detroit Free Press is reporting an independent poll showing Dingell trailing Republican Rob Steele, an Ann Arbor cardiologist, by 4 points (43.8%-39.5%, with about 11% undecided). This, in a district where Democrats have a seemingly safe 13-point edge in voter registration.
So why would Dingell be in trouble?
Maybe he’s a little long in the tooth — he has been in the House nonstop since 1955.
But let’s look at this another way, through the prism of the Big Three problems facing Democrats in this election:
1) The Deficit
On two of these issues, Dingell has problems.
“Let me remind you this [Americans allegedly dying because of lack of universal health care] has been going on for years. We are bringing it to a halt. The harsh fact of the matter is when you’re going to pass legislation that will cover 300 [million] American people in different ways it takes a long time to do the necessary administrative steps that have to be taken to put the legislation together to control the people.”
“Control the people”? A Freudian slip, perhaps, but . . . yikes!!
Also not helping matters, a contentious town-hall meeting during which Dingell was confronted by an angry father and his wheelchair-confined son over whether the child’s cerebral palsy would be covered by Obamacare.
Problem #2: cap-and-trade. Not that Dingell is for it — in fact, he’s called it a “big tax”. And that’s in keeping with Dingell’s reputation as a fierce protector of the American auto industry and a fierce opponent of stronger emission standards (an attitude that’s earned him the nicknames “Dirty Dingell” and “Tailpipe Johnny”).
However, in this nationalized election, that his party tried and failed to enact a cap-and-trade bill acts a drag on Dingell and other incumbents — even if they didn’t support the idea.
And candidates tied to an anchor? That makes it all the tougher to get back to the surface.