Congress: Mitchell prevails in 10th District GOP race

Chad Livengood, and Jonathan Oosting

Wealthy businessman Paul Mitchell prevailed Tuesday over state Sen. Phil Pavlov and three other Republican opponents in a primary contest and puts him in position to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Candice Miller in the 10th Congressional District.

Mitchell had 37 percent of the vote followed by Pavlov at 28 percent, according to unofficial results from 89 percent of the district's 326 precincts reporting. He finally was poised to win a congressional seat after spending at least $6.6 million of his own money in the past two years in two separate districts.

Former state Sen. Alan Sanborn trailed in third place with 16 percent of the primary vote, followed by 10 percent for state Rep. Anthony Forlini of Harrison Township and 8 percent for retired Air Force officer David VanAssche.

Mitchell and his four opponents were vying to be Miller's likely successor in the strongly Republican district, which encompasses northern Macomb County and the Thumb counties of Lapeer, St. Clair, Huron and Tuscola counties. Mitchell will be favored to win the Nov. 8 general election against former Democratic state Rep. Frank Accavitti Jr. of Eastpointe.

"I'm incredibly humbled by tonight's win," Mitchell said in a statement. "Over the next three months, we're going to do all we can to insure we carry on the great work Candice Miller has done in Congress."

The primary win was Mitchell’s second bid for a congressional seat in as many election cycles after he spent $3.6 million in a losing race in mid-Michigan’s 4th Congressional District in 2014 against John Moolenaar of Midland.

This time around, Mitchell predominantly self-financed his campaign again by contributing nearly $3 million of his own fortune, according to Federal Election Commission filings through July 13.

Miller, a Harrison Township Republican who is running for Macomb County public works commissioner, did not endorse anyone in the race. But she issued a statement late Tuesday night that all but declared Mitchell her heir apparent.

"I pledge to do everything I can to make the transition as smooth as possible when Paul begins his term," Miller said.

Mitchell, a retired businessman who moved into Lapeer County's Dryden Township last year, spent an estimated $1.7 million on television advertising in the past three months, according to ad tracking data analyzed by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

"They ran a good campaign, they were able to fully fund it at every level," Pavlov said in a telephone interview after Mitchell was declared the winner. "My hope is (Mitchell) goes to the Washington and works on the things that are important to the people of the 10th District."

The Mitchell ad blitz sought to position the former owner of Ross Medical Education Centers as the outsider among a group of mostly established politicians.

Mike Provenza, a real estate title examiner from Harrison Township, said he voted for Mitchell after seeing his ads.

“He sounded like a conservative to me, and that’s what I typically look for,” Provenza said.

Each of Mitchell’s opponents dipped into their own bank accounts to help finance their campaigns. But their personal contributions paled in comparison with Mitchell’s largesse.

Pavlov, a second-term state senator from St. Clair, raised about $364,000, loaning his campaign $30,000.

Forlini of Harrison Township received about $98,200 that includes a nearly $25,000 loan from himself. Sanborn had about $57,200 to spend, including a $3,000 personal loan.

VanAssche, a political newcomer from Shelby Township, has spent more than $230,000 in the race, including a $142,000 he loaned his campaign. VanAssche returned to Michigan in 2015 after a 27-year career in the U.S. Air Force that was capped by five years as chief mission director of the presidential plane Air Force One.

Pavlov was aided by an endorsement from Sen. Jack Brandenburg,R-Harrison Township, in a bid to out-muscle Forlini, Sanborn and VanAssche for Macomb County votes.

Mitchell had the endorsement of a few prominent Republican leaders in the rural areas of the district, including 10th Congressional District GOP Chairman Stan Grot of Macomb County, state Rep. Gary Howell and former Rep. Kevin Daley, both of whom hail from Lapeer County.

In Lapeer, Daley’s endorsement was influential with some voters.

“That meant a lot to me — I have a lot of respect for (Daley),” said Mary Hoffman, 53, a Lapeer real estate agent.

William Holder, of Lapeer, also cited Daley and Howell’s endorsements as a reason he voted for Mitchell.

But Holder said he was persuaded to back Mitchell because of Pavlov’s 2011 vote to extend the state’s income tax to pension income for residents born after 1947.

At age 74, the pension tax doesn’t apply to the retired General Motors worker. But he doesn’t think younger generations, particularly his children, should have to pay income tax on their pensions.

“I was going to vote for Pavlov, but he voted to tax the retirees,” Holder said. “That was a deal breaker.”

Pavlov said he didn't hide from his voting record in the Legislature, which Mitchell didn't have to contrast.

“When you look at some of the decisions that have to be made in government, he’ll be faced with some of those decisions as well," Pavlov said.

Alex Amateis of Harrison Township, a retail employee who previously worked for the Michigan Republican Party, said he voted for Forlini because he was happy with his work in the state House and knows the family after attending school with his son.

“Paul Mitchell, I know he’s pouring a lot of money into it, but it seems like he runs wherever he can run,” said Amateis, pointing to Mitchell’s unsuccessful 2014 campaign. “I like him, but I think he’s just running here because he saw an open seat.”

Patricia Volke and her daughter Stephanie of Macomb Township both voted for Forlini.

Volke said she also considered Pavlov but was impressed by Forlini’s positions on income tax reform, immigration and companies that ship jobs overseas.

Mitchell “just didn’t seem to be portrayed as a very reliable candidate,” said Volke, explaining she was flooded with mail and “bombarded by phone calls” about the race.

Jenny Diehl, 52, of Lapeer, said she voted for Sanborn because she knows him personally.

“I think he has strong Christian values,” Diehl said.

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Twitter: @ChadLivengood

Paul Mitchell speaks at a debate of the 10th Congressional District Republican candidates at Palazzo Grande in Shelby Township, Mich. on July 12, 2016. (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)
State Sen. Phil Pavlov at a debate of the 10th Congressional District Republican candidates at Palazzo Grande in Shelby Township, Mich. on July 12, 2016. (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)
Alan Sanborn at a debate of the 10th Congressional District Republican candidates at Palazzo Grande in Shelby Township, Mich. on July 12, 2016. (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)
State Rep. Tony Forlini speaks at a debate of the 10th Congressional District Republican candidates at Palazzo Grande in Shelby Township, Mich. on July 12, 2016. At right is David VanAssche. (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)