He is the second-longest-serving member of the U.S. House of Representatives, in office since 1965 and seeking his 25th term in Congress this year.
But challengers to U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. say the well-known Detroit Democrat is running on historical reputation and not recent record. And with redistricting adding more conservative suburban voters to Michigan's 13th District, they think the incumbent may be vulnerable in the state's Aug. 7 Democratic primary.
"In this area his name is not as powerful, and I think this race may be a surprise to a lot of people," argues Glenn Anderson, a former Ford worker, union steward and veteran Democratic state senator from Westland, Mich., who is one of two candidates — the other is state Sen. Bert Johnson — looking to unseat the veteran Mr. Conyers in the primary.
"No one is entitled to hold a seat forever. It's not about what someone did 50 years ago but about what they will do today and tomorrow for the people in the district," Mr. Anderson said. "One of things I've learned — when I talk to folks, both business people in the district as well as common citizens — they are not seeing any responsiveness out of Congressman Conyers' office."
He hopes to capitalize on results of a poll he says showed that 63 percent of voters want someone different to lead Michigan's 13th District, and 60 percent thought Mr. Conyers was past his prime.
Mr. Anderson touts his experience at the city council level as well as a decade in the Michigan Legislature working on policy, noting that his time in the auto industry as well as a real estate agent has put him touch with grass-roots needs.
Despite requests, Mr. Conyers' staff did not make him available for an interview with The Washington Times. But Bill Ballenger, the publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, says he doubts Mr. Conyers is in danger of losing his seat, despite redistricting concerns in the new 13th.
"I don't really think it hurts him," Mr. Ballenger says. "He's now 83 years old and he's not exactly going door to door now, but he always seems to skate by in these re-elections."
Mr. Conyers' long history of working in civil rights — the late civil-rights icon Rosa Parks once worked in his office — has given him heft among many older black voters. He co-founded the Congressional Black Caucus and has been endorsed by President Obama.
If Mr. Conyers and U.S. Rep Hansen Clarke in Michigan's 14th District, both black, were to lose their seats, Michigan would be without a black congressman for the first time since 1955.
"I'm not taking any chances, I'm campaigning with the understanding we have a volatile electorate," Mr. Conyers told Bloomberg.com.
Although Mr. Conyers' wife, Monica Conyers, 47, is serving a three-year prison sentence for accepting contract bribes as a city councilwoman in Detroit, the scandal, which led news coverage in Detroit for months, has not hurt him politically.
"There is no sign that it ever will," Mr. Ballenger says. "They have always had a little bit of an arm's length marriage anyway. Conyers has never said a thing about what happened to her, has never made a comment, which is probably a smart thing."
Mr. Anderson, Mr. Conyers' top opponent, says he thinks he can stay competitive in fundraising, a key concern for lesser-known opponents outside of the sway of powerful Washington interests.
Campaign finance reports through March from the first quarter of 2012, as reported by opensecrets.org, showed Mr. Conyers had raised $560,081 through March 31 and spent $437,025, with his top contributors including the Teamsters, Boilermakers, and Carpenters and Joiners unions.
Mr. Anderson raised $133,828 and spent $74,468, while Mr. Johnson raised $58,290 and spent $16,887.
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