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Trump loyalist Matthew DePerno running to be Michigan GOP chair

Matthew DePerno
Matthew DePerno lost his bid for attorney general but now wants to lead the Michigan Republican Party. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)
  • Matthew DePerno, Trump loyalist, wants to lead Michigan GOP
  • DePerno lost to Attorney General Dana Nessel by 9 points
  • Failed gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon also considering run

LANSING — Trump loyalist Matthew DePerno is running to become the next chairman of the Michigan Republican Party as current chair Ron Weiser plans not to seek re-election.

DePerno is vowing to help make the state "red again" less than a week after losing his own election for attorney general.

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His candidacy sets the stage for what could be a contentious leadership battle in the Michigan GOP, which is reeling after Democrats retained top offices and regained full control of the Michigan Legislature for the first time in four decades. 

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Tudor Dixon, the Republican gubernatorial nominee who lost to incumbent Democrat Gretchen Whitmer by nearly 11 percentage points, said Saturday she is also considering a campaign to lead the state party. 

GOP delegates are expected to vote on the party chair position at a convention in early February. Weiser’s co-chair, Meshawn Maddock, has not detailed her plans and did not respond to a request for comment. 

In announcing his campaign to replace Weiser, DePerno acknowledged that Republicans suffered "historic losses" in last week's election, which "led to the Democrats controlling every branch of government."

But "instead of playing games, we must unify and focus on the path forward," DePerno told supporters in an email. "We need a state party that will fight for the future of Michigan and lay the foundation to make Michigan red again in 2024 — and beyond."

DePerno lost his own campaign for attorney general by nine points to Democratic incumbent Dana Nessel. Prior to his run for statewide office, DePerno was best known as the attorney on a lawsuit demanding a "forensic audit" of the 2020 presidential election in Antrim County.

A special prosecutor is currently investigating DePerno and others linked to an alleged voting tabulator tampering scheme. 

Some Republicans have argued last week's historic '’ass kicking’' is evidence the party needs to move on from Trump and other candidates who continue to question the 2020 election. 

"I hope that my party pulls its head out of its butt and gets it right," state Rep. Jack O'Malley, a Lake Ann Republican who lost re-election last week, told Bridge Michigan on Friday. 

"MAGA candidates and Trump-ties (are) everywhere, and I don't know if that's gonna really resonate in a purple or slightly blue state."

DePerno's announcement comes four days after Michigan Republican Party Chief of Staff Paul Cordes released a scathing memo that largely blamed Dixon, DePerno and other top-of-the-ticket GOP candidates who had been endorsed by former President Donald Trump but failed to raise funds.

"At the end of the day, high quality, substantive and well-funded campaigns are still critical to winning elections," Cordes said. "We struggled in both regards to the detriment of Michiganders across the state." 

Fundraising is a key component of state party leadership, and it's something DePerno struggled with in his bid for attorney general. Through Oct. 28, he had raised $1.1 million, compared to $5.4 million for Nessel. 

If elected chairman by GOP delegates, DePerno said he would try to "build out a robust fundraising effort to ensure we never again face the lopsided spending that we did this past election."

The post-election autopsy report by Cordes, the Michigan GOP's chief of staff, criticized Dixon for focusing on "red meat issues" in the general election.

"There were more ads on transgender sports than inflation, gas prices and bread and butter issues that could have swayed independent voters," Cordes wrote. "We did not have a turn out problem - middle of the road voters simply didn't like what Tudor was selling." 

Dixon blasted the report late last week, calling it the "perfect example of what is wrong" in the Michigan GOP, arguing Weiser, Maddock and Cordes "all refuse to take ownership for their own failures." 

In a weekend statement, Dixon said she is now considering a run for Michigan GOP chair herself and will announce her plans "in the coming days." She did not give a clear timetable. 

"We must have a unified party that focuses on winning votes and elections," Dixon said. "In the post-Covid, Prop 2 era, our party must be competitive and it has not been for a variety of reasons."

Bridge reporter Lauren Gibbons contributed.

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