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Stateside Podcast: Mix-ups and division mark GOP convention

A group of people at the April 2022 Michigan Republican Party nominating convention. Some are holding signs supporting Matthew DePerno for attorney general and others are holding up signs supporting Tom Leonard for attorney general.
Rick Pluta
Michigan Public Radio Network
Matthew DePerno, the Trump-endorsed candidate, beat out attorney and former state Representative Tom Leonard for the attorney general endorsement at the Michigan Republican party's convention this weekend.

Michigan Republicans are back home following a weekend convention in Grand Rapids that pitted factions of the party against each other over endorsements for statewide offices, including attorney general and secretary of state.

The results virtually guarantee that Matt DePerno will appear in the GOP column in November as the candidate for attorney general and Kristina Karamo for secretary of state. The selections are controversial because both candidates pushed falsehoods about the 2020 elections — and many delegates were looking for a new direction.

“Their beliefs are too out of the mainstream, yet they are into the mainstream now, so they will not be getting my vote,” said state Representative Aaron Miller (R-Sturgis).

That sentiment drew a rebuke from Oakland County Republican chair Andrew Raczkowski.

“Then those people shouldn’t be here,” he said. “If they are here, then point them out to me because I’d love to ask them why.”

Republican celebrities and Trump acolytes Rudy Giuliani and My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell made convention appearances to support Trump-backed candidates. The results display former President Donald Trump’s continued grip on the Michigan GOP as his backed candidates for attorney general, secretary of state and other races swept the convention.

There was fierce fighting as some party members hoped to move past old controversies and Trump’s continued re-hashing of election falsehoods and the 2020 race that he failed to win. That faction did not get its way.

“Now we are together. We have a united team and I also want to thank Donald Trump for focusing on Michigan,” said Michigan Republican co-chair Meshawn Maddock to the applause of the small crowd remaining after the convention continued for hours beyond plans and expectations.

Maddock defied a tradition that party officials stay out of convention contests, and backed DePerno and Karamo. Glitches in the voting process and how candidates were listed on ballots caused a logjam that delayed results by hours and also caused many delegates to simply leave out of frustration.

“This is a joke,” said a tearful John Lauve, a delegate from Wayne County, as he walked out. And that was a problem for attorney general candidate Tom Leonard. The former state House Speaker was the party’s candidate challenging Dana Nessel, the Democrat who narrowly won the race in 2018. Whatever edge he had in delegates was erased as people simply left.

If the results of this weekend’s convention are ratified by the GOP’s formal nominating convention in August, the endorsed Republicans will face incumbent Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson on the November ballot.

The convention also endorsed candidates for the elected Michigan State University, University of Michigan and Wayne State University boards as well as the Michigan State Board of Education. Those endorsees will also have to be formally nominated at the party’s August convention, as required by state law.

Democrats also held an endorsement convention earlier this month, where delegates put Nessel and Benson on a path for re-nomination.

It is possible under both parties’ rules to choose different nominees than the candidates endorsed at August conventions, but the systems are set up to make that difficult and unlikely.

The goal of early endorsement conventions is to make it easier for candidates to campaign, organize and fundraise — and to give the parties time to heal from often-brutal nomination fights before November. Candidates for governor, Congress, and the Legislature are not chosen at conventions but by voters in party primaries.

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