Could this be the “last hurrah” for Rep. John Dingell, dean of the U.S. House and author of the food safety bill?

His Republican opponent, medical doctor Rob Steele, leads Dingell by four points, according to a new independent poll of Michigan’s 15th Congressional District.

The survey, conducted by telephone on Oct. 4 of 300 likely voters in the district, showed Dr. Steele leading Rep. Dingell, the veteran Democrat, 43.8 percent to 39.5 percent. 

The bipartisan team of Gary Reed and Kelly Rossman-McKinney conducted the poll.

Michigan’s 15th Congressional District includes the university cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, where young voters two years ago embraced Barack Obama’s bid for the presidency. 

In past elections, Michigan’s 15th has been a solidly Democratic district.   The only other public poll of the district, taken last Sept. 15-16 by the Detroit News, showed Dingell with a 19-point lead.  

Dingell was first elected to Congress in 1954.  He has been re-elected 27 times, serving with 11 presidents.  

Until the beginning of the current Congress, Dingell chaired the powerful House Commerce and Energy Committee.   The same voting block of liberals that made Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the House voted to replace Dingell with Rep. Henry Waxman as Commerce and Energy Committee chairman.

After Waxman took over, the committee made Dingell its “chairman emeritus.”  The longest serving member of the U.S. House then went to work on his own agenda, which included food safety.

His efforts were largely responsible for the easy passage in the House in July 2009 of the Food Safety Enhancement Act.   After the Commerce and Energy Committee sent the bill to the floor, it was Dingell who worked with individual members of the House Agricultural Committee to douse any opposition flare-ups.

It has also been Dingell who has kept pressure on the U.S. Senate to pass its version of a food safety bill.   The Michigan Democrat went public with his criticism of California Sen. Diane Feinstein’s attempts to use the food safety bill as a vehicle upon which to ban the chemical bisphenol A in baby bottles.

If the Senate does get around to voting on its food safety bill during the lame-duck session of Congress after the elections, Dingell would likely be one of the House’s representatives on the conference committee that will be required to square the two bills into a single law to be sent to the president for his signature.

According to the recent poll, the 11 percent undecided will determine whether Dingell will assume that role as a lame duck himself or not.   If Dingell is re-elected for the 28th time, senators on that conference committee will likely give him his usual deference.

Michigan is second only to Nevada with a high unemployment rate of 13.1 percent.  All public-polling shows it is likely to elect Republican Rick Snyder, a technology executive, as governor, over Lansing’s Mayor Virg Bernero. a Democrat.