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Candidates from different GOP factions vie for 4th District nomination

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

Mid-Michigan congressman Dave Camp’s decision to step down from the seat he’s held for two decades sparked a battle between different factions of the Republican Party.

Next Tuesday, voters will likely decide which one will hold the seat.

Back in March, Dave Camp joined the list of senior members of the Congress from Michigan who are stepping down this year.  Camp has been in Congress since 1991 and is the outgoing chairman of the powerful Ways and Means committee.

Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Rep. Dave Camp, R-Midland, has been in Congress since 1991. He announced his retirement in March.

Camp’s announcement set off a scramble among potential candidates. 

This race has quickly turned into a contest between money and endorsements.

Businessman Paul Mitchell has the money.

Paul Mitchell III is the 57-year-old retired CEO of Ross Education
Credit Paul Mitchell for Congress
Paul Mitchell for Congress
Paul Mitchell III Age: 57 Retired/former CEO Ross Education

If you live in Midland, Saginaw, Mt. Pleasant or anywhere in between, you can not escape Mitchell’s TV ad campaign.

Mitchell has spent heavily buying up local TV time, with his ads running sometimes two or three times an hour promoting his message that’s he’s a job creator and attacking one of his rivals for the seat: State Sen. John Moolenaar, R-Midland.

Mitchell has spent nearly $2 million of his own money to fund his TV ad buys. That’s roughly four times what his two Republican rivals have raised for their campaigns combined.

Paul Mitchell’s media blitz has not gone unnoticed by John Moolenaar.

“The truth is I don’t have the most money. I can’t personally pay for millions of dollars in TV ads,” Moolenaar told an audience during a Republican debate in St. Johns, “But quite frankly I don’t believe this seat is up for sale.”


State Sen. John Moolenaar, 53.
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
John Moolenaar Age: 53 Michigan State Senator

Moolenaar points to his record in local and state government to show he knows how to get things done.   

Paul Mitchell may have the money, but John Moolenaar has the endorsements. 

Moolenaar has lined up a long list of Republican politicians to support his candidacy, including outgoing U.S. Rep. Dave Camp.

But it’s that backing by the Republican Party establishment that irks fellow GOP candidate, software consultant Peter Konetchy. He’s especially unhappy with Camp’s backing of Moolenaar.

“He’s a handpicked a successor,” Konetchy says, “John is his friend and whatever. John has his staff. John has his donors. John has everything else. And he is theoretically the appointed one to take the seat.”

Konetchy says he wants to shake things up in Washington.

Peter Konetchy Age: 59 Self employed/software engineer
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Peter Konetchy, 59, is a self-employed software engineer

He wants to shrink the size of the federal government, turning over much of the work it does to the states. 

John Kaczynski is the director of the Center for Public Policy and Service at Saginaw Valley State University.

He says on the issues, there’s not much that separates the three candidates.

Kaczynski says Moolenaar, Mitchell and Konetchy spend much of their time campaigning on the same side of the same issues.

“It seems like they all get stuck on the same record,” says Kaczynski. “But I think they have to in this environment when you look at a Republican primary.… If you’re lucky, 25% turnout of your registered voters in a three-way primary race.”

Kaczynski notes that the winner of the primary race just needs the most votes, not necessarily more than 50%, to win the nomination.

Kaczynski says the three GOP candidates are mainly distinguished by which wings of the Republican Party they represent. Moolenaar’s is perceived as the most mainstream of the three. Mitchell is a tea party favorite. And Konetchy leans libertarian.

Kaczynski says the polls show the race is really between Paul Mitchell and John Moolenaar, but he says Konetchy could prove to be a spoiler by siphoning off enough votes from Mitchell to decide the election.

There is a Democratic candidate in the race. But Kaczynski says Jeff Holmes has little chance of winning in November in this heavily Republican district.  

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.