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Michigan Fight Symbolizes Coming Changes in Delegation

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Dingell, second from left, Carl Levin , second from right, and others make up an aging Michigan congressional delegation.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama won the state by about 10 points, and Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow won by more than 20 points.

But those two victories somewhat masked the fact that Democrats are on the brink of change in the delegation — and it may begin in 2014. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services panel, hasn’t said whether he’ll run for a seventh term. If he retires, it would open the door to a highly competitive open-seat race featuring one or more House members.

The next decade will also likely bring the changing of the guard in the districts of Democratic Reps. John D. Dingell and John Conyers Jr., the No. 1 and 2 most senior House members, who have served for a combined 52 terms.

Conyers, entering his 25th term, remains ranking member of the Judiciary Committee. But Dean of the House Dingell, entering his 29th term, lost his ranking slot on the Energy and Commerce Committee in 2008 in a power battle with then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. It’s unlikely either Michigan Democrat will hold a chairman’s gavel again. (That’s not necessarily the case for 81-year-old Sander M. Levin, ranking member on the powerful Ways and Means Committee.)

Still, you’d be hard-pressed to name a state delegation with more committee leaders per capita on Capitol Hill than Michigan. That’s because much of the delegation’s clout now lies with its Republicans, who have experienced a transformation of their own over the past decade as the party has shifted right.

The Michigan GOP tradition is rooted in moderate, labor-friendly Republicans — for example, Romney, the late governor and father of the 2012 presidential nominee. Just a few years ago, the delegate boasted center-right members such as Reps. Vern Ehlers, Joe Schwarz, Thaddeus McCotter and Joe Knollenberg. All of them were replaced by more conservative Republicans, except Knollenberg.

“In general, is the Michigan delegation more conservative than in previous years? The answer is yes,” said Schwarz, who has publicly toyed with running as an independent or Democrat since his defeat. “Some of the less senior members of the delegation are much farther to the right than some of the more senior delegation members.”

Schwarz served a single term as a Republican before conservative Rep. Tim Walberg defeated him in the 2006 primary. Rep. Justin Amash, an acolyte of outgoing Texas GOP Rep. Ron Paul, succeeded Ehlers in 2010. Rep.-elect Kerry Bentivolio, a Republican in the same libertarian vein, will take McCotter’s seat in 2013.

To be sure, current GOP Reps. Fred Upton and Dave Camp have moderate streaks, as do colleagues Mike Rogers and Candice S. Miller to a lesser degree. But Upton, a one-time co-chairman of the moderate Tuesday Group, now chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Camp is Ways and Means chairman — roles that require toeing the party line. Next year, Upton’s former swing district will include safer GOP territory, thanks to redistricting.

Then there’s Knollenberg. His former district won’t exist in January. Peters defeated him in 2008, and Republicans eliminated the 9th District in their redraw.

His son, state Rep. Marty Knollenberg, is a political power in the legislature — and the proud author of the controversial right-to-work law.

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