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State Rep. Rudy Hobbs says he may be the underdog, but he's not going to lose the primary

Jack Lessenberry

Yesterday, I talked about Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence, who is in a tight race to win the Democratic primary in Michigan’s wildly gerrymandered 14th Congressional District, which stretches from the affluent Grosse Pointes, through the worst parts of Detroit, through Oakland County suburbs.

Most polls say the front runner is either Lawrence or former Congressman Hansen Clarke, who lost the primary here two years ago.

Clarke dropped out of sight after losing to Gary Peters, who is now moving on to run for the Senate. But, he resurfaced at the last moment this year to try to reclaim a congressional seat.

Surveys show a tight contest between Clarke and Lawrence, but virtually all the big endorsements have gone to a third candidate young enough to be their son.

State Representative Rudy Hobbs, D-Southfield, has been backed by everyone from the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce to the United Auto Workers. Carl and Sandy Levin have both endorsed him, as have the last two Democratic governors.

He has the teachers and carpenters unions, the police, the bricklayers and more officeholders than you can count.

So why is he running third?

I talked to Hobbs yesterday in his headquarters, a magnificent former consulate across from the Renaissance Center.

Though short, bald and pudgy, he radiates infectious energy and charisma. I wouldn't count him out.

“I’m used to being the underdog, but I’m not going to lose,” he told me with a cheerful smile. “I like Hansen Clarke. Brenda and I are close.”

But he said, “we don’t need someone who wants to go to Congress to cap off their career. We need a fighter for the long haul.”

Hobbs clearly thinks he is that guy. The movers and shakers think so too.

At only 39, but he has impressed nearly everybody. He has energy. He married very young, and he and his wife Dedra both managed to get degrees from Michigan State while raising the first two of their three daughters.

After a brief stint as a first-grade teacher, Hobbs worked his way up the political ladder, starting by answering phones for Congressman Sandy Levin and soon becoming his district director.

He ran Democratic campaigns and served as a policy advisor to Lieutenant Governor John Cherry. Four years ago, he got elected to the Legislature. Since then, he has won several legislator-of-the year awards, and is now the second highest-ranking House Democrat.

He doesn’t have the name recognition of his rivals. Yet he seems to believe his election is assured.

“I wasn’t supposed to have a chance in my first legislative race.” he told me. “But I knocked on 10,000 doors, and will have knocked on 30,000 doors before this is over,” he said.

He clearly means it.

Thirty years ago, his mother moved his family out of Detroit after a horrific murder in the neighborhood, but Rudy still thinks of himself as a boy from Motown’s gritty East Side.

If he gets to Congress and can pick what committees he wants, they won’t be the glamorous ones like Intelligence. Hobbs wants transportation and financial services, in order to help his hometown.

Though short, bald and pudgy, he radiates infectious energy and charisma. I wouldn’t count him out.

Win or lose, I’d bet Hobbs will be a presence in our politics for a long time.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.       

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