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As Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.) celebrates his sweet 16th term in the House, some Democrats in the district are getting a little anxious.

The 78-year-old Member has reigned over his heavily Democratic district since the mid-1970s — and shows no sign of quitting anytime soon. But in the union- dominated Flint region, some challengers have considered taking on Kildee in a Democratic primary.

Some of these Democrats might see Kildee’s age as a liability, or they are looking to be first in line for the seat when the Congressman does leave office. One of those rumored Democrats is state Sen. John Gleason, who used to work for Kildee.

Gleason said in an interview on Wednesday that he’s not interested in running — but refused to rule out the possibility. He added that people talk to him about a primary challenge all the time — and more frequently as of late.

“[I get] asked about it every single day,” Gleason said. “Grocery store, anywhere I go. I just left the Genesee Valley shopping mall, just got asked in there.”

Gleason insists that he’s never initiated the talk, but he isn’t the only Democrat who has been named as a candidate-in-waiting. Trial attorney Michael Manley also was said to be discussing a primary challenge recently, plus Patsy Lou Williamson, wife of Flint Mayor Donald Williamson, was said to also be looking at the race at one point.

According to Genesee County Democratic Party Chairman Ron Duncan, talk that Gleason might challenge Kildee “has been around forever.” Duncan said he’d discussed it in passing with Gleason at the beginning of 2007.

“I don’t know if it’s a dream,” Duncan said. “I’m sure [Gleason] just got aspirations to do it. I think Kildee is a viable Congressman. … He’s a Democratic icon. I think John could definitely take a look at that and see if it’s winnable, but I hardly think that’s the case.”

The Congressman’s nephew, Genesee County Treasurer Dan Kildee (D), also said he might be interested in running for the seat someday, though it’s highly unlikely he would take on his uncle.

Gleason said he received e-mails from Dan Kildee about a year ago asking if he was going to run. He said the Kildees are spreading the rumor about him as part of their “due diligence to make sure that Dale just runs unopposed again.”

“I just think that both Dan and Dale have to settle down a little bit, just not get so anxious,” Gleason said. “Dale’s been there a long time and a lot of people say he’s going to be there even longer. … They need to settle down. They don’t have evidence, not one bit of evidence that I’m running against him. Mike Manley said it, Patsy Lou Williamson said it, but I never said it.”

Dan Kildee was unavailable Wednesday to respond to Gleason, but in an interview earlier this week he recalled an encounter with Gleason about running for his uncle’s seat in Congress.

“He has sat in my office and personally assured me that under no circumstances would he be interested in running against Dale Kildee or in his seat in Congress,” Dan Kildee said. “But that was a year ago, and people change their minds.”

Dan Kildee acknowledged he might be interested in running for his uncle’s seat himself, but said he expects the elder Kildee to stick around Congress “for some time to come.” Dan Kildee also said he is more interested in running for governor in 2010 — a race that is viewed as wide open for Democrats.

Bill Ballenger, the publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, said that while Dan Kildee is “trapped” and can’t run against his uncle, Gleason probably figures he can’t beat him in a primary if the seat ever does open. Ballenger also said Gleason has a reputation for being a maverick.

“He doesn’t have to worry about offending the powers that be in the Democratic power structure because he’s opposed them every step of the way and he’s thrashed them,” Ballenger said.

What’s more, Gleason is in the middle of a four-year term in the state Senate with “everything to gain and nothing to lose” by running this time.

“The best chance he’d have is to take [Rep. Kildee] on when nobody else takes him and try to capitalize on a feeling out there that this guy has been there for 32 years and he’s too old,” Ballenger said. “Whereas if Gleason passes up this opportunity and humbly waits hat in hand, he’s probably going to run into a situation where there’s going to be a cast of thousands.”

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