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Michigan GOP moves forward with 2020 election-denying secretary of state and AG

Kristina Karamo, who is headed towards becoming the Republican nominee for secretary of state in Michigan, gets an endorsement from Trump during his April 2 rally.
Scott Olson
Getty Images
Kristina Karamo, who is headed towards becoming the Republican nominee for secretary of state in Michigan, gets an endorsement from Trump during his April 2 rally.

Updated April 23, 2022 at 9:39 PM ET

Michigan Republicans picked two candidates — both deny the 2020 election results and have been endorsed by former President Donald Trump — to serve as the state's next top elections officer and top law enforcement official.

Kristina Karamo, a community college professor who rose to prominence after claiming she saw election fraud in Detroit in the last presidential race, won the three-person contest for secretary of state with about 67% of the vote at Saturday's GOP endorsement convention in Grand Rapids. On the November ballot, her opponent will be incumbent Democrat Jocelyn Benson.

Matt DePerno, an attorney who has pushed Trump's false claims of election fraud, won the party's endorsement for attorney general. In a runoff race, DePerno took 54% of the vote to defeat former state House Speaker Tom Leonard, who was seen as the more establishment Republican candidate. DePerno is now running against incumbent Democrat Dana Nessel.

Michigan does not hold primary elections for a number of down-ballot races, including the secretary of state — who oversees elections — and attorney general. Instead, Republicans and Democrats endorse and nominate candidates for November's general election at party conventions.

At this weekend's GOP convention, the party voted resoundingly to support Trump's false claims about the 2020 election. About 2,000 delegates from across the state participated in the vote.

The convention was seen by many as the first major test of Trump's influence over the 2022 elections. Trump's former campaign attorney Rudy Giuliani attended the convention, as well as MyPillow founder Mike Lindell, who has become a leader in the election denial movement.

The former president came to Michigan earlier this month to stump with both Karamo and DePerno.

"This is not just about 2022," Trump said during his visit to the state in early April. "This is about making sure Michigan is not rigged and stolen again in 2024."

Karamo is the first of the many election-denying candidates running in secretary of state races across the U.S. to move toward appearing on a state ballot in November. She has also said she doesn't believe evolution should be taught in schools.

Incumbent Democrat Benson faced a torrent of threats and harassment following the 2020 election that echoed Trump's lies about voting in Michigan. Ahead of Saturday's vote, Benson said that she worried about the state of democracy, should the state elect a secretary of state candidate like Karamo, who thinks the 2020 election was stolen.

"It's like putting arsonists in charge of a fire department. It's like putting a bank robber in charge of a bank and giving them the keys to the vault," Benson said. "This is a choice between whether or not we'll have a democracy moving forward."

Looking ahead to the general election, some Michigan political insiders question whether Karamo will be able to widen her support outside of Trump's base, considering the range of controversial views she has already voiced.

She appeared at a QAnon-adjacent rally last year, and she has said she believes the conspiracy theory that left-wing activists were behind the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

"Every ad from April 24 through November is going to say 'QAnon Karamo is too crazy for us,' " said state Rep. Beau LaFave, a Republican who ran for secretary of state against Karamo, before Saturday's vote.

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Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.