Singular Unease for Michigan's Power Couple

By Mary Ann Akers And Paul Kane
Thursday, February 28, 2008

If the angst of a superdelegate were a portrait, it would look just like Debbie Dingell, the wife of Rep. John Dingell (D- Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Dingell the superdelegate -- the blond one, not the bald one; they're both superdelegates -- is losing sleep over the political mess she helped cause in her state by pushing for an early Democratic primary in defiance of national party rules.

"I probably haven't slept since February 4th," said Dingell, vice chair of the General Motors Foundation, maybe only half-jokingly. "Because it does matter. I really care about the people of my state."

Dingell is scrambling to help find a solution so that her people, including herself, will have a voice at the Democratic convention this summer. When she and other Michigan Democratic insiders pushed so aggressively to buck the Democratic National Committee's calendar and place their primary in mid-January, how were they to know the stakes would be so high, or the race this close, so far beyond Super Tuesday?

"Nobody foresaw this," she said. Certainly not Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who, unlike Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), didn't even put his name on the Michigan ballot. Clinton received 55 percent of the beauty-contest vote, while Obama supporters in the Wolverine State secured 45 percent of the vote for "uncommitted."

"He never realized that he'd have support in Michigan," Dingell said. "I did beg him to put his name back on the ballot."

Fueling Dingell's angst is the fact that she and her husband, for the first time since their 20-year-old disagreement over gun control, are at odds.

John Dingell supports Hillary; Debbie has stayed neutral. Usually it's Congressman Dingell who's begging his socialite wife to keep her mouth shut.

"I asked him if he would consider staying out of this," Debbie Dingell said, "and he said, 'I've gotta do what I've gotta do.' "

She'll just have to work around him. As Dingell said on the voice-mail greeting she recorded yesterday morning: "We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails."

Nats Pitch In

Major League Baseball, which is under the congressional microscope, lags pretty far behind most major industries when it comes to raising money for political contributions.

From mid-September to mid-January, the big leagues' political action committee didn't raise a single penny, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

On Jan. 15, the executives of the Washington Nationals pitched in a bit. Four of the team's ownership partners, including Theodore and Mark Lerner, put $2,500 each into the Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball PAC.

That helped boost the coffers a little, but still left the PAC with a meager $56,000 in cash on hand.

As colleague Ben Pershing reported last month, the baseball PAC gave out $168,000 in federal contributions in 2007. Just two members of the House Oversight and Government Reform panel, which is examining the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, received contributions from the commissioner's PAC last year. They are Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) and retiring Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.).

The National Association of Realtors, by contrast, raised nearly $6 million last year for its PAC, handed out $1.5 million in donations and was sitting on $4.8 million in cash.

Of course, as small as the MLB PAC may be, at least it has a political arm. The National Football League, National Basketball Association and National Hockey League don't even have PACs.

Those three sports leagues also were hauled before Rep. Henry A. Waxman's (D-Calif.) Oversight and Government Reform Committee yesterday to testify about their own efforts to battle steroid use.

On the Mend

Octogenarian Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) was released from the hospital yesterday and immediately returned to work. Nonagenarian Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) remains at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington after falling at his home late Monday night. And baby boomer Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) won't be able to eat or drink anything tonight as he prepares for back surgery tomorrow morning at Bethesda Naval Hospital.

Byrd, 90, the oldest and longest-serving member of the Senate -- who, as president pro tempore of the chamber is third in line of succession to the presidency -- is raring to join Warner back on the Hill.

"Senator Byrd is still in the hospital under observation -- much to his chagrin -- feeling a bit feisty, according to his daughter, and wants to get back to work as soon as possible," Byrd spokesman Jesse Jacobs told us.

Byrd has cast a record 18,241 votes in the Senate and, according to Jacobs, is anxious to be first to get to the 20,000 Vote Club.

Jacobs said it didn't appear Byrd had broken any bones during his tumble Monday night. Doctors are just being cautious, he added.

Warner, 81, was hospitalized for two days this week "during which time he responded positively to new medications and rhythm treatments for atrial fibrillation," according to a statement from his office. Warner, who is retiring when his term expires at the end of this year, was released from Inova Fairfax Hospital and "returned directly to the office and resumed previously scheduled engagements.

"Last evening, his heart returned to a normal rhythm," the statement said.

Boehner, 58, is scheduled to have back surgery to repair a bulging disc. Spokesman Michael Steel says the House minority leader is expected resume his full work schedule next week. As for whether Boehner, a 7 handicap at the end of last season, will be able to resume his love of golf, Steel said, "Definitely, full recovery."

We'll see whether the surgery puts Boehner up at the seniors' tees with Byrd and Warner.

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