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Michigan GOP endorses Trump favorites DePerno, Karamo at convention

Kristina Karamo handily won the Michigan Republican Party endorsement for Secretary of State, while Matthew DePerno prevailed in a second ballot vote for the attorney general nod during a convention Saturday in Grand Rapids. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)

GRAND RAPIDS — Former President Donald Trump’s choices for attorney general and secretary of state — Matthew DePerno and Kristina Karamo — scored big wins on Saturday during a Michigan Republican Party endorsement convention delayed by election irregularities.

Trump’s candidates to be the state’s top law enforcement and election officials prevailed in contested GOP races at the DeVos Place in Grand Rapids, where thousands of voting delegates and alternatives cast ballots counted by tabulators followed by a partial human audit. 

DePerno and Karamo have been on the frontlines of Trump’s ongoing campaign to overturn and undermine his 2020 election loss, and their victory reinforces his grip over the party. They are now expected to face Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, both Democrats, in the November general election.

“We came together and we accomplished something that some people never thought we could do,” said DePerno, who was a relatively obscure Portage-based attorney before filing an unsuccessful lawsuit challenging 2020 election results in Antrim County. 

Republican Party endorsements

The state GOP on Saturday endorsed the following candidates for statewide office:

Attorney General: Matthew DePerno

Secretary of State: Kristina Karamo

State Board of Education: Linda Lee Tarver, Tami Carlone

Michigan State University Trustees: Travis Menge, Mike Below

University of Michigan Regents: Lena Epstein, Sevag Vartanian

Ten candidates are seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination. An August primary will decide who advances to the November general election to face Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat.

“We are going to go forward now in November and defeat Dana Nessel,” he added. “She is literally drunk with power, and we are going to end that. We are going to return Michigan to a Republican state.”

Trump celebrated the convention win in a premature victory statement released before voting had begun in an hours-long run-off election between DePerno and former state House Speaker Tom Leonard of DeWitt.

Karamo and DePerno will “get to the bottom of the 2020 Election Fraud,” Trump declared.

President Joe Biden, a Democrat, won Michigan by 154,188 votes. The state’s Republican-led Senate Oversight Committee spent months reviewing the contest and found no evidence of widespread voter fraud. 

Karamo won the GOP endorsement handily, with 67 percent of the delegate vote on the first ballot, calling Trump’s endorsement a “massive” help. 

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DePerno, however, narrowly failed to reach 50 percent support in a three-way race with Leonard and state House Speaker Ryan Berman, prompting the run-off. 

Tempers flared before the second vote, when Berman endorsed Leonard but was denied the opportunity to tell his delegates from the convention stage. 

Karamo, however, used her first-round victory speech to urge support for DePerno, prompting boos from Leonard backers.

In a dramatic move that led to angry cries from weary delegates, Michigan GOP officials temporarily paused voting amid confusion over run-off contests for attorney general and education seats. 

Ballots used for the run-off did not have candidate names, and a video graphic telling delegates which ovals to fill in for their preferred candidates was out of order, according to party officials. 

It was ultimately “human error,” said Michigan GOP spokesperson Gustavo Portelo.

That statement, ironically, echoed official explanations about 2020 irregularities in Antrim County that have spawned Trump’s false claims of fraud. DePerno has filed unsuccessful suits demanding another audit of the northern Michigan County’s election results, alleging voting machines were compromised because unofficial results were skewed toward Biden before they were corrected.

Convention delegates were allowed to spoil ballots and cast another one if they were confused by the party’s mixup, Portelo told reporters. Officials conferred with both the DePerno and Leonard campaigns before deciding to continue with the run-off voting rather than hold a third vote, he said. 

It was the Michigan GOP’s first-ever endorsement convention, and there were bound to be “hiccups,” Portelo said. 

DePerno ultimately won the run-off election with 55 percent of the vote, a victory at least partially attributable to his campaign compelling activists to “storm” county conventions and become alternate state convention alternates, many of whom were able to vote Saturday in place of delegates who did not show up or left before the run-off.

Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock, who upended party orthodoxy by endorsing DePerno and Karamo prior to the contested convention, said Republicans are headed toward fall elections as a “united team.”

Trump will “continue to support us, and we are going to win everything back in November,” Maddock said after voting concluded. “I couldn’t be happier.”

But several delegates and observers bemoaned the convention process and outcome, saying they feared Saturday’s confusion could undermine the party’s messaging on election integrity, and jeopardize GOP chances in November.

“The MIchigan Republican Party used to be a model for how a state party should be run, but the process today is evidence that is no longer the case,” said former political director Jonathan Duke, who supported Leonard for attorney general.

By endorsing DePerno, Republicans nominated “the most unelectable candidate in the best political environment for Republicans in a generation,” Duke said, referencing favorable conditions for the party given Biden’s poor polling numbers.

Leonard, who was GOP nominee for attorney general in 2018, acknowledged his loss to DePerno in a statement, promising that "in the months ahead, I'll continue working with fellow Republicans to elect conservative candidates up and down the ticket.”

Berman, however, said he is not automatically ending his bid for attorney general until the party’s official nominating convention in August. 

“There’s a good chance” DePerno could lose his law license or face criminal charges before then, Berman predicted, referencing ongoing Attorney Grievance Commission and Michigan State Police probes into DePerno’s efforts to upend the 2020 presidential election. 

“In that case, I'm going to be ready to step up and be the nominee,” Berman told Bridge Michigan.

Former state Rep. Aaron Miller, who chaired the House Elections Committee, said he personally did not plan to vote for DePerno or Karamo in the general election because of their ongoing claims about the 2020 contest.

"The theories on elections that have entered the mainstream are downright scary — in this room,” Miller told Bridge Michigan.

State Rep. Beau LaFave, who was running for Secretary of State but lost the endorsement vote to Karamo, said he does not think she can win in the fall. 

“I’m disappointed that Jocelyn Benson will be the Secretary of State for the next four years,” LaFave told Bridge Michigan. “She’s terrible, and she just got re-elected today.”

In a post-convention press conference, Michigan Republican Party Chair Ron Weiser urged “poor losers” to rally behind the GOP’s emerging ticket. 

“We’re going to get together, and we will be able to win this election this fall,” Weiser said, telling reporters he intends to raise or personally donate “the resources needed to be successful.”

The convention featured cameos from two national Trump-world figures: My Pillow Guy CEO Mike Lindell joined DePerno on stage at one point, and Rudy Giuliani was on hand to support University of Michigan Regents candidate Lena Epstein. 

Perry Johnson, a metro Detroit businessman running for governor, endorsed DePerno and Karamo before the convention and said he has no concerns about sharing the ticket with them this fall if he wins the August primary. 

“I think this is the greatest thing that could happen to Michigan,” Johnson told reporters after the convention vote. “We are going to have a supreme ticket. I love it.”

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