GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Republicans were meeting Saturday to pick candidates for statewide races that former President Donald Trump has sought to sway while flirting with another run for the White House.
About 2,000 party delegates cast ballots in an initial round of voting at a convention center in downtown Grand Rapids. The event is a test of Trump’s clout in closely watched contests for attorney general and secretary of state — Michigan’s top law enforcement and elections jobs, which are currently held by Democrats.
Trump backed his allies Matthew DePerno for attorney general and Kristina Karamo for secretary of state, even holding a rally for them weeks ago. The political newcomers support his false claims about his 2020 loss in the swing state.
Karamo, a community college instructor, won a three-person race. DePerno, a lawyer, also fared well but was just shy of the majority needed in a three-person field, prompting a second round of voting to begin.
The winners of the “endorsement” convention should have a clear path to being officially nominated at a second convention in August and facing Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in November.
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 has drawn criticism, however, within a wing of the GOP that views the candidates as unelectable in the fall and is frustrated that state party’s leaders have openly backed them rather than be neutral.
DePerno’s main rival for the nomination was Tom Leonard, a former legislative leader and the party’s 2018 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 between Leonard and DePerno.
Earlier, Bernadette Smith, one of the party’s vice chairs, told the crowd that 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.
Republican U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman urged delegates to support 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.”
In the secretary of state’s race, Karamo defeated state Rep. Beau LaFave and Chesterfield Township Clerk Cindy Berry after securing about two-thirds of the vote.
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 party 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.