Two Donald Trump-backed candidates won support from Michigan Republicans for attorney general and secretary of state at a convention on Saturday, paving the way to face off against Democratic incumbents in the fall.
The gathering of thousands of delegates was a test of Trump’s influence in the party.
His allies — Attorney General candidate Matthew DePerno, a lawyer, and Secretary of State candidate Kristina Karamo, a community college teacher — emerged victorious from the three-person fields at the 10 a.m. “endorsement” convention at the downtown Grand Rapids.
Political newcomers back Trump’s false claims about his 2020 loss in the swing state. They will be officially nominated at a second convention in August and will challenge Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in November.
Karamo won hands down with two-thirds of the vote. DePerno was just short of the necessary majority in a first vote. But he won a run-off against former legislative leader Tom Leonard which was halted and then restarted after the balloting order of the races did not match what was shown on the screens flanking the stage.
Trump has said his favorite candidates won’t let Michigan be “robbed” in the next presidential election. He lost the state by 154,000 votes to Joe Biden. Trump’s list, however, drew criticism from within a wing of the GOP that sees the candidates as ineligible in the fall and was frustrated that party leaders openly supported them rather than being neutral.
DePerno’s main rival for the nomination was Leonard, the party’s 2018 attorney general nominee, whom Trump later named U.S. Attorney in West Michigan. State Rep. Ryan Berman, who finished third, urged his supporters to support Leonard in the second round.
Bernadette Smith, one of the party’s vice presidents, said DePerno “is the only candidate who will fight for electoral integrity.” As DePerno supporters marched to the front of the room to show their support, a video played of Trump touting DePerno and calling Leonard a “RINO” — or Republican in name only.
DePerno sued to no avail after human error led rural County Antrim to falsely show a local Biden victory over Trump. It was quickly corrected but was used to spread false information about voting material.
He could face repercussions in the Antrim trial. DePerno recently confirmed that the State Attorneys Grievance Board is investigating him.
Nessel launched a separate investigation last year after a Republican-led legislative committee said people were making baseless claims about results in Antrim to raise money or publicity for their own purposes. The panel report does not specify who should be investigated, but those named in it include DePerno.
In the race for Secretary of State, Karamo defeated State Rep. Beau LaFave and Chesterfield Township Clerk Cindy Berry.
“We are going to make sure our election results are something everyone can trust,” Karamo said.
In a sign of the pervasiveness of election lies, the party used machines to tally votes but, in a change, also counted ballots by hand in a compromise with activists.
The nominees for Michigan’s statewide races are chosen at conventions, except in the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate primaries. The midterm election climate should favor Republicans, but incumbent attorneys general and secretaries of state rarely lose.
The state’s Democratic Party has said Republicans should be “ashamed” of its endorsed candidates. Party chair Lavora Barnes called Karamo an “inexperienced fear-spreading extremist” and said DePerno was a Trump “lackey” willing to protect the former president but not all Michiganders.