While voting is going on in MichiganNational general election, Republican nominee for secretary of state takes the stage as a warm-up for former president Donald Trump and hit hard on the main theme of her campaign.

Cristina Karamo repeated unfounded claims about the 2020 presidential election, which have been repeatedly disputed. She told a crowd at a recent rally at Macomb Community College that “authoritarians” are giving her millions Democratic opponent – Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson – in an attempt to “corrupt state election systems on the battlefield so they can control America.”

“If you look at history, it shows you what tyrants do,” said Karamo, a former community college professor. “History tells us, history screams at us, that if we don’t stand up and fight now, we will lose the greatest country in the history of mankind.”

It was an address designed to galvanize a crowd of loyal Trump followers, some of whom latched onto the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory.

While Karamo’s speech drew cheers, betting on a general election strategy that appeals to the most far-right voters is a gamble for Michigan Republicans.

Candidates who must support their party base during primaries or nominating conventions often shift toward the center in an effort to attract more voters to the general election. But that hasn’t happened this year for Republicans seeking Michigan’s top three jobs — governor, attorney general and secretary of state.

The Nov. 8 election will test whether campaigns aimed at resonating with the far right and highlighting strong ties to Trump will be enough to win the traditional state, where the Republican incumbent lost the race for the White House to Democrat Joe Biden by more than 154,000 votes in 2020. year.

All three GOP The candidates stood behind Trump at an Oct. 1 rally at the college about 20 miles north of Detroit, joined by Rep. Marjorie Taylor of Greene, D-Ga., and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who has pushed Trump’s election lie to audiences across the country. .

Trump has falsely claimed that the 2020 Michigan election was “rigged and stolen,” citing “evidence” that he said first came from Karamo and Matthew DePerne, a tax lawyer who is running for attorney general. state attorney.

In his own address to the crowd, De Pernat called the Democrats “radical, cultural Marxists” who want to “shut you up.”

“If it doesn’t work, they want to put you in jail,” DePerna told the crowd, which chanted “Lock her up.” All three candidates from the Democratic Party are women.

DePerne’s campaign is also marred by an investigation into whether he should face criminal charges for trying to access voting machines after the 2020 election.

John DeBly, a Grand Rapids real estate agent and precinct delegate who attended the rally, said he was excited about the candidates. “We have the best America First ticket from top to bottom that we’ve had in a long time,” he said.

Some moderate Republicans are skeptical that a campaign focused largely on the party’s core elements will be enough to defeat Democratic incumbents with wide popularity and significant fundraising advantages. Democrats are also expected to benefit from a ballot amendment that seeks to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution.

Those Republicans say inflation, gas prices and economic worries should be the GOP’s main talking points, not further alignment with Trump and his false claims of widespread fraud that cost him re-election.

They point to the unusual way Michigan selects candidates for attorney general and secretary of state, a process that is done through a party nominating convention rather than a primary election in which voters make their choice.

The most conservative Republicans loyal to Trump dominated this convention in April. Party co-chairman Meshon Maddock was one of 16 Republicans who submitted false credentials claiming to be state presidential electors, despite Biden’s certified victory in the state.

Three weeks before the convention, at another Trump rally, DePerna encouraged attendees — many of them precinct delegates — to “storm” the party meeting and said it was “time for the grassroots to come together.”

Delegates overwhelmingly voted to nominate Karamo. DePerna defeated former House Speaker Tom Leonard, who lost the 2018 attorney general race by 3 percentage points to Democrat Dan Nessel in a runoff.

“Caramo and DePerna are some of the most loyal to Donald Trump you’ll find anywhere in the country,” said Jason Roe, a longtime Republican strategist. “That loyalty has been unwavering in this election process, regardless of how it might affect the prospects of the general election.”

Roe, whose father served as executive director of the Michigan Republican Party for 10 years, will become the state party’s executive director in the spring of 2021. He resigned six months later over “a difference of opinion about how many conspiracy theories we should tolerate.”

Shortly after Roe left, Trump began calling party leaders to “force the party to formally accept things that are not going to be good for the upcoming election,” Roe said.

The party’s gubernatorial candidate, Tudor Dixon, won the nomination during the August primary after receiving Trump’s endorsement. Dixon, a conservative news anchor who once starred in low-budget horror films, also had the support of the wealthy DeVos family.

Although viewed as less extreme than Karamo and DePerna, Dixon said during the debates that she believes the 2020 presidential election was stolen, and she recently praised a conspiracy to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat. Since then, Dixon has tried to move away from denying the results of the last election by focusing on topics like inflation and education, but she has also repeated hard-right rhetoric on cultural issues.

She has called for “pornographic” books to be banned from schools and has floated an education program modeled after Florida’s “don’t say gay” policy, which critics have called.

While Democrats have attacked DePerne and Karamo for consistently denying a Biden victory in 2020, they have focused on what they describe as Dixon’s “extreme” stance on abortion. Insufficient fundraising made it difficult for her to fight back.

As of Aug. 22, Dixon had $524,000 in the bank, compared to Whitmer’s $14 million, according to the latest available campaign finance reports. Some of that gap was closed by the super PAC Michigan Families United, which received $2.5 million in donations, including from the DeVos family.

“I just don’t like the fact that there is no advertising about Dixon on TV. Everything you see is about other people, and it’s all negative,” said Laura Bunting, an Ionia County resident who attended the Trump rally.

As of Sept. 16, Karamo and DePerna had $422,554 in cash, compared to $5.7 million for their Democratic opponents, according to campaign finance reports.

Michigan pollster Bernie Pohrn said the Republican candidates are defined by their extreme positions, but none have raised enough money to get on television and introduce themselves to a wider range of voters. This, according to him, is “difficult for people to form a good opinion of you.”


Joey Cappelletti is an Associated Press/Reporting staff member for the US Government News Initiative. Reporting for America is a nonprofit national outreach program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover underreported issues.


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