- The Washington Times - Friday, August 9, 2002

Rep. John D. Dingell's victory in Michigan's Democratic primary Tuesday was a high-profile defeat for two liberal forces: the gun-control lobby and the feminist EMILY's List.

The 18-point win by Mr. Dingell over liberal Democratic Rep. Lynn Rivers was the sixth loss in a House race this year for EMILY's List, despite the group having spent at least $350,000 on Mrs. Rivers' campaign and sending out five mailings.

And the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence worked feverishly to defeat the pro-gun Mr. Dingell, sending its volunteers into the new 15th Congressional District for six weeks or more and taping get-out-the-vote messages by actor Martin Sheen. Founder Sarah Brady paid a personal visit to the district last week to campaign for Mrs. Rivers.

One Democratic operative predicted that Mr. Dingell's decisive win would be "the final dagger through the heart of gun-control groups."

The National Rifle Association, which has won four head-to-head matchups against EMILY's List in Democratic primaries this year, said gun-control groups "threw in the kitchen sink in this race."

"The comfortable margin of victory in this race speaks volumes to the credibility and effectiveness of these groups, their agenda and the individuals who support them," said NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox.

But some political analysts said the result may have had to do more with the appeal of Mr. Dingell's 47-year career in his district than with a lack of muscle from liberal lobbies.

"That part of Michigan doesn't fit the profile" for liberal groups, said Mike Franc, vice president of congressional relations at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "It's a lot of the old Reagan Democrats. It wasn't particularly fertile ground for an EMILY's list solicitation."

Mr. Dingell is the longest-serving House member, first elected in 1955. His father held the seat from 1933 to 1955.

A spokeswoman for EMILY's List downplayed the Rivers loss and focused instead on the group's win with Michigan Attorney General Jennifer Granholm, who beat two male challengers to win the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

"I would not lose sight of the Granholm victory," said Janet Harris, spokeswoman for EMILY's List. "It's still a huge victory against very powerful opponents."

She said EMILY's List is not losing its clout, citing victories by lawyer Stephanie Herseth in the Democratic primary for South Dakota's House seat, and Linda Sanchez, who won a six-way Democratic primary in California's 39th District.

EMILY stands for Early Money Is Like Yeast; the group says it "raises dough" to help female Democratic candidates.

Miss Harris said that her group did mobilize women in the Dingell-Rivers race, but that "there were other forces at work" that generated a high turnout.

A spokeswoman for the Dingell campaign said those forces were primarily Mr. Dingell's personal appeal and vaunted grass-roots network with union members and gun owners.

"He was all over this district," said spokeswoman Laura Sheehan. "You can put as much [campaign ads] up on the air as you'd like. If you're not out meeting the people and getting to know them, then you're not connecting."

She said Mr. Dingell focused on jobs, health care and the economy, shaking hands at factory gates at 5 a.m., while the liberal opposition groups did not take a broad enough approach to the issues in the campaign.

"It wasn't about a very narrow base of ideas," she said. "If you can only speak to three issues, then you cannot be representative of a large, diverse community."

Brady Center spokeswoman Amy Stilwell said Mrs. Rivers "gave him a pretty good run for the money" despite being outspent.

"The final numbers don't necessarily reflect the public's opinion on sensible gun laws," Miss Stilwell said.

She said her group defeated nine of the "dirty dozen" candidates it targeted in 2000.

"Gun control gets a bad rap; in the last election it was not the loser that everybody likes to say it was," she said.

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