DEARBORN, Mich. — Debbie Dingell officially entered the race Friday for the congressional seat synonymous with her name, saying she's confident she would hit the ground running if elected to the seat her husband has held for more than 58 years.
Debbie Dingell, 60, launched her campaign at a restaurant in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, where she and her husband share a condominium. The announcement comes days after her 87-year-old husband said he wasn't going to seek to add to what is already the longest congressional career in history.
"Let's be clear: I am not running to replace John Dingell," said Debbie Dingell, who is chairwoman of the Wayne State University Board of Governors and a member of the Democratic National Committee. "But I wouldn't run if I didn't think I could do a good job for my friends and my neighbors ... and the working men and women of Southeast Michigan."
Although she said Michigan delegation needs "the wisdom, experience and dedication John has brought to the job" — particularly with the impending retirement of U.S. Sen. Carl Levin — she said she respected her husband's "tough decision" to step aside. Still, she said can draw on his experience and on her own because she knows his colleagues and constituents.
"I know how to navigate the halls and I've got relationships," she said. "I think I'll bring a fresh perspective — I don't always agree with John Dingell on everything. But I think I could have a head start to help deliver for the people of the 12th Congressional District."
With her husband's last name and her own long-standing connections and influence in Washington and Democratic politics, Debbie Dingell is seen as a front-runner in the Democratic primary. But she may have company.
State Sen. Rebekah Warren, of Ann Arbor, formed a committee and website Friday to explore running and said she expects to decide within two weeks. The 42-year-old headed an abortion rights organization before winning a seat in the state House in 2006 and Senate in 2010.
She would have to give up a second and final four-year term in the Senate to run for Congress.
"I hope to spend time over the next few days and weeks to talk with friends, neighbors and activists to understand what really concerns them most and how I can best be of service," Warren said in a phone interview.
Warren said she is studying whether it makes sense for her to tackle some of the state issues she has worked on, such as protecting the Great Lakes form Asian carp and transportation funding at the federal level.
"To me it's not about whether I can win. It's about whether or not it's the right time to make a move like this to serve the people," said Warren, who used to be a General Motors executive.
While the 12th Congressional District includes liberal Ann Arbor, it also includes Dearborn and a swath of "Downriver" working-class Detroit suburbs where the Dingell name is entrenched. Warren, if she runs, would bank on securing strong backing from reliable Democratic primary voters in Washtenaw County. Dingell in recent days, though, secured endorsements from some top current and state legislators from Warren's home base.
"There are a lot of people I respect that are probably looking for it," Dingell said, adding that list includes Warren. "Each of us will go out and talk to the voters and work hard to earn their respect and vote."
Republican Terry Bowman also plans to run and is expected to officially announce his candidacy next week. He works at a Ford auto plant, founded the group Union Conservatives and has been a vocal supporter of Michigan's right-to-work law.
Debbie Dingell said her husband was in Washington because the House was in session. When John Dingell, whose father held his congressional seat before him, announced his pending retirement Monday, he said his wife would make a "hell of a Congressman and won't need advice from me."
Associated Press writer David Eggert in Lansing contributed to this report.