A native of Flint who has served in the House since 2013, when he took over the seat his uncle had held since 1977, Kildee is the most senior member of Michigan’s Democratic delegation. And he’s not just a household name in the region. He also has popularity that extends well beyond his party’s base.
But shortly after the election, Kildee announced he had been diagnosed with a serious form of cancer. And although successful surgery has left him cancer-free, Kildee says now, the experience has caused him to think twice about staying in Congress.
“One of the things about going through a tough health diagnosis and then coming out OK ... it does cause you to sort of sit back and say, OK, what are my priorities?” Kildee told Politico, which was the first to report his planned retirement.
The new 8th district stretches from Flint in the South to Midland in the North, with a portion on its eastern flank that borders Lake Huron and Michigan’s “thumb.” It’s part urban, part suburban and part rural. There’s plenty of farmland as well as a major manufacturing presence, with not just several auto industry factories but also the world headquarters of Dow Chemical.
Politically, the district may literally be the most divided in America: The 2022 Cook ratings named Michigan’s 8th the nation’s median district, meaning exactly 217 districts leaned in a more Republican direction and 217 leaned more toward Democrats.
Kildee’s announcement comes at a time when retirements already have Democrats defending several other swing districts that once seemed safe, while Republicans are looking for ways to preserve or enlarge their narrow, 221 to 213 majority. “Republicans are looking forward to flipping this seat red,” said Mike Marinella, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Kildee on Thursday said he was a lot more sanguine about Democratic prospects, calling himself “confident that Michigan will reelect President Biden, entrust Democrats with legislative majorities and elect a Democrat to serve Michigan’s 8th District after I retire from Congress.”
That prediction was part of an official statement in which Kildee looked back at a career in politics that began in 1977 when, at age 18, he won election to serve on Flint’s board of education.
In Congress, the highlights of Kildee’s tenure included securing federal funds to help Flint deal with lead poisoning in its water, support for the auto industry and its transition to electric vehicles, as well as efforts to lower the price of prescription drugs.
In a statement saluting Kildee’s career, Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said “No one fights harder for his constituents than Dan Kildee.”
Igor Bobic contributed reporting to this article.