GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Two candidates who were endorsed by former President Donald Trump won Michigan Republicans’ backing for attorney general and secretary of state at a convention Saturday, clearing their path to face Democratic incumbents in the fall.
The meeting of thousands of delegates was a test of Trump’s clout in the party.
His allies — attorney general candidate Matthew DePerno, a lawyer, and secretary of state candidate Kristina Karamo, a community college instructor — emerged victorious from three-person fields at the 10-hour “endorsement” convention in downtown Grand Rapids.
The political newcomers support Trump’s false claims about his 2020 loss in the swing state. They will be officially nominated at a second convention in August and challenge Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in November.
Karamo won handily with two-thirds of the vote. DePerno was just shy of the majority needed in an initial vote. But he won a runoff over former legislative leader Tom Leonard that was paused and later restarted after the ballot order of races did not match what was shown on screens flanking the stage.
Trump has said his preferred candidates would not let Michigan be “stolen” in the next presidential election. He lost the state by 154,000 votes to Joe Biden. Trump’s slate drew criticism, however, within a wing of the GOP that views the candidates as unelectable in the fall and was frustrated that party leaders openly backed them rather than be neutral.
State Republican Party Chairman Ron Weiser said such critics are “poor losers.”
“We’re going to unite together, and we will be able to win this election this fall,” he said.
DePerno’s main rival for the nomination was Leonard, the party’s 2018 attorney general nominee whom Trump later nominated for U.S. attorney in western Michigan. State Rep. Ryan Berman, who finished third, urged his supporters to back Leonard in the runoff.
Bernadette Smith, one of the party’s vice chairs, said DePerno “is the only candidate who will fight for election integrity.” As DePerno’s supporters walked to the front of the hall to demonstrate their support, a video played of Trump touting DePerno and calling Leonard a “RINO” — or Republican in name only.
DePerno unsuccessfully sued after human error led rural Antrim County to erroneously show a local victory for Biden over Trump. It was quickly corrected but was used to spread misinformation about voting equipment.
DePerno was in “the field working when no one else was,” Smith said.
He may face repercussions over the Antrim lawsuit.
DePerno recently confirmed that the state’s Attorney Grievance Commission is investigating him. Nessel last year began a separate probe after a Republican-led legislative committee said people were making baseless allegations about the results in Antrim to raise money or publicity for their own ends. The panel’s report did not specify whom should be investigated, but the people mentioned in it include DePerno.
Republican U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman supported Leonard.
“Mark my words: Democrats are motivated and we will only win if we put our best candidates forward,” he said. “I truly believe he’s the only candidate in this race with integrity, grit, determination and the skills to not only win in November but to perform the duties of attorney general on day one.”
DePerno, however, said he can unite Republicans and defeat Nessel.
“She is literally drunk on power and we are going to end that,” he said.
In the secretary of state’s race, Karamo defeated state Rep. Beau LaFave and Chesterfield Township Clerk Cindy Berry.
“We’re going to make sure that our election results is something that everyone can be confident in,” Karamo said.
In a sign of how pervasive election falsehoods have become, the party used machines to tabulate votes but, in a change, also hand-counted the ballots in a compromise with activists.
Nominees for Michigan’s statewide races are chosen at conventions except in gubernatorial and U.S. Senate primaries. The midterm election climate is expected to favor Republicans, but incumbent attorney generals and secretaries of state rarely lose.
The state Democratic Party said the GOP should be “ashamed” of its endorsed candidates. Chair Lavora Barnes called Karamo a “fear-spreading, inexperienced extremist” and said DePerno is a Trump “lackey” willing to protect the former president but not all Michiganders.