By Tim Kiska

Not to sound indelicate, but figuring the ages of Michigan’s congressional delegation is an exercise in higher math.

John Dingell is 85, and has held his current job since 1955. He’s the longest-serving member of Congress in the history of
this country. John Conyers is 82, and has been in office since 1965. Sander Levin, the relative rookie of the bunch, is 80. He went to Washington in 1983. (The average age of Michigan’s congressional delegation is 59.6. That’s a little more than two years older than the average age of a member of the 111th Congress, which is 57.2, according to the Congressional Research Service.)

But how do these long-serving incumbents hang on so long? Let’s use John Dingell as an example.

The Republicans redrew his district 10 years ago, pitting him against the much-younger Lynn Rivers. The Republicans figured Dingell might be vulnerable, but discovered Dingell’s great strength:  Street-level politics.

Smitten as we are with television, Facebook and Twitter, we forget about something known as the “ground game.” That’s the boring, gritty, tedious work of arranging to get your people to the voting booths, handing out literature at the precincts and counting noses. The late Chicago Mayor Richard Daley was a master at this.

So, it turned out, was Dingell. Did you have a dream in the last lifetime about voting? A John Dingell van would appear at your doorstep, offering a ride to the polls. Rivers was sent packing.

A similar scenario played out in November, with Ann Arbor cardiologist Rob Steele, a Republican. Steele ran a credible, hard-charging campaign, but lost by 17 percentage points. It was scant consolation that Steele was only the second Republican
since 1955 to hit the 40 percent mark against Dingell.

But back to any of these septuagenarians or octogenarians: There’s a reason they’ve been around for so long.

They know how to play the game.


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