Election conspiracist to lead Michigan GOP through 2024

Two Black women, including Democrat Lavora Barnes, now lead the major political parties in Michigan

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Election conspiracist Kristina Karamo, who was overwhelmingly defeated in her bid to become Michigan’s secretary of state, was chosen Saturday to lead the state’s Republican Party for the next two years.

Karamo defeated a 10-candidate field dominated by far-right candidates to win the Michigan GOP chair position after a state convention that lasted nearly 11 hours. A former community college professor, she lost her secretary of state race in the 2022 midterms by 14 percentage points after mounting a campaign filled with election conspiracies.

Karamo inherits a state party torn by infighting and millions in debt. She will be tasked with helping win back control of the Legislature and flipping one of the nation’s most competitive Senate seats, while attempting to help a presidential candidate win the battleground state.

Kristina Karamo speaks to Michigan Republican Party delegates Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023, in Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Joey Cappelletti)

Addressing delegates before the vote, Karamo said that “our party is dying” and it needs to be rebuilt into “a political machine that strikes fear in the heart of Democrats.”

Karamo rose to prominence following the 2020 presidential election when she began appearing on conservative talk shows saying that as a poll challenger in Detroit, she saw “ballots being dropped off in the middle of the night, thousands of them.”

The decision to elect Karamo, who will lead through the 2024 elections, solidifies the hold that far-right activists have on the state party after Michigan Republicans suffered sweeping electoral losses last year.

It took three rounds of voting at the convention in Lansing for locally elected delegates to pick Karamo over former attorney general candidate Matthew DePerno, who had been endorsed by Trump in the race.

With a field dominated by grassroots activist candidates running on far-right messaging, many longtime Michigan Republicans had given up on a state party before Saturday’s vote even took place.

“We lost the entire statehouse for the first time in 40 years, in large part, because of the top of the ticket. All deniers. It turned off a lot of voters,” former longtime Republican U.S. Rep. Fred Upton said last week. “As I look at the state convention, it looks like it could well be more of the same.”

The party may take “a cycle or two to correct itself and to get out of the ditch that we’ve been in for the last couple of years,” Upton told The Associated Press.

Former President Donald Trump, left, listens as Michigan Republican Secretary of State candidate Kristina Karamo speaks during a rally in Warren, Mich., Oct. 1, 2022. (Todd McInturf/Detroit News via AP, File)

The state party previously has been led by former U.S. Sen. Spencer Abraham, former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and current national Republican Party Chair Ronna McDaniel. The party built a large volunteer base of grassroots activists, former Chair Bobby Schostak said, while also raising “$30 to $35 million each cycle.”

In Schostak’s time as chair from 2011 to 2015, Republicans maintained control of the Legislature and Rick Snyder, a Republican, was reelected as governor. Trump won the state in the 2016 presidential election.

Democrats now control all levels of power in the state for the first time since the 1980s. They won control of both houses of the Legislature and defeated Republicans by significant margins for governor, attorney general and secretary of state in the 2022 midterms.

Longtime donors withheld millions in donations as the Republican party grew increasingly loyal to Trump, nominating his handpicked candidates, DePerno and Karamo. Tudor Dixon, who lost her race for governor to Whitmer, said her campaign was hurt by the state party not having as much money as in the past.

“I’d love to say that it is just a movement of going and knocking doors. But you’ve got to be able to put the money behind it,” Dixon said.

Following the midterms, Michigan GOP Chair Ron Weiser and co-Chair Meshawn Maddock said they would not seek reelection.

Prior to the vote Saturday, Schostak, now a major donor in the state, said the next leader will need to prove “they have the capability to be good stewards of the donor money.”

If donors once again decide in large numbers not to give to the state party, they will need to find other ways of helping candidates ahead of a 2024 presidential election in which Republicans will look to flip the state House and win a U.S. Senate seat for the first time in more than two decades.

“The state party’s a little bit weaker, and they’re not going to have the influence in races that they had before,” state House Republican Floor Leader Bryan Posthumus noted. “That being said, there are a lot of other avenues to pick up that slack and to make sure that we are still effective with or without the party.”

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