Rep. John Dingell's (D-Mich.) retirement might not end the Dingell dynasty in Congress.
A Democratic powerbroker in her own right, Debbie Dingell would be the most formidable candidate to succeed her husband after flirting with a political career of her own in recent years.
"I expect she will run, yes," Mark Gaffney, a longtime Dingell ally, former head of Michigan's AFL-CIO affiliate and the chairman of the 12th Congressional District Democratic Party, told The Hill. "I think she's going to take her time. You won't see an announcement for a few days, maybe even a little longer."
"She will be the front-runner right off the bat. She's very popular, she's very well-known because she's been at John's side. And this is important — she's been a part of the operation of the office, part of the operation of the district, clearly the constituent services and the political outreach. She's been a part of that for all the years they've been married. She'd be extremely strong."
Gaffney said Democratic power players were already coming up to Debbie Dingell at her husband's retirement announcement telling her that if she runs, they'd back her.
"Everyone anticipates Debbie will run and win," said one top Michigan Democrat who is close to the Dingell family and asked to speak on background because the comments came so soon after the veteran congressman's retirement announcement.
"It's no secret that Debbie will most likely run and will be the one to beat in that race. I just don't see anybody else challenging her in a serious way. Debbie's been here in this district for 30 years, in the trenches," the source close to the family continued.
If Debbie Dingell wins, she'd keep the district the family has held in some form since 1933. Her husband became the longest serving member in congressional history last year, hitting the 58-year mark in 2013. His father, former Rep. John Dingell Sr. (D-Mich.), held the same seat for more than two decades before that, and his son succeeded him after the elder Dingell's death in 1955.
Other Michigan Democrats agree Debbie Dingell is all but certain to run for her retiring husband's seat, and if she does, she'll be very tough to compete against in a Democratic primary.
"Debbie Dingell is the prohibitive favorite to win the seat if she gets in, and I've heard, for all intents and purposes, that she will," said Michigan Democratic strategist T.J. Bucholz. "I find it impossible to believe that she won't try to be the next congressperson there."
A Democratic National Committee member, chairwoman of the Wayne State University Board of Governors and former head of the General Motors Foundation, she has been active in Democratic politics, both in Michigan and Washington, D.C., for decades. She has close ties to both the district and the unions that still hold strong sway in the state's Democratic primaries. She's also almost three decades younger than her 87-year-old husband and is known as a tireless campaigner.
"She brings an awful lot to the table as a congressional candidate," said Bucholz. "She is very accomplished, has a good track record in the private sector, is well-known in the Beltway and would be an excellent candidate to succeed her husband."
"In Michigan, we've always speculated Debbie would run after John retired," said another source who's worked for a number of Democratic members in Michigan's delegation. "She's already so involved in his office and delegation politics that she's like the district's second member of Congress anyway. I'd be surprised if she didn't run."
Dingell has shown interest in running for office before. She gave serious consideration to running for the Senate last year, after Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) announced his retirement but decided to stay out of the race, and Democrats avoided a primary against Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.).
Debbie Dingell did not respond to a request for comment from The Hill on whether she would run for her husband's seat.
Dingell was effusive in praising his wife, calling her his "dear friend and wise advisor."
"I want to express my thanks and gratitude to the lovely Deborah," he said. "She has been tireless, devoted, and worked just as hard — if not harder — for this district throughout the years."
He said during a question-and-answer session after his retirement speech that his wife would make a strong candidate should she decide to run.
If Debbie Dingell does run, few expect her to face a serious challenge. The district, which stretches from Detroit's blue-collar suburbs to the college town of Ann Arbor, is overwhelmingly Democratic, and the Dingells are a household name throughout the region.
Like her husband, Dingell isn't known as a doctrinaire liberal: Both have taken more centrist stances on gun control, and she might be more of a centrist on environmental issues, which could theoretically cause her problems with some of the district's more liberal voters in Ann Arbor.
But even not being in lockstep with the party all the time wasn't enough to oust the longtime congressman. Dingell allies point to John Dingell's primary win against fellow Rep. Lynn Rivers (D-Mich.) in 2002 as evidence that the Dingells could defeat more liberal opponents in the district. Dingell defeated the more liberal Rivers, who had the backing of EMILY's List and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), by a comfortable margin after the two had their districts merged in redistricting that year.
"I would be surprised if anyone would run against her, to be honest with you. If she wants the seat, it's hers to lose, as far as I'm concerned," said another Michigan Democratic strategist.
If Dingell surprises Democrats and doesn't run, Michigan Democrats mention Michigan state Sens. Rebekah Warren (D) and Hoon-Yung Hopgood (D), and Michigan state Reps. Andrew Kandrevas (D) and Doug Geiss (D) as potential candidates for the seat.