LANSING—Election conspiracist Kristina Karamo, who was overwhelmingly defeated in her bid to become Michigan’s secretary of state last year, will now lead the state’s Republican Party for the next two years.
Karamo defeated a 10-candidate field to win the Michigan GOP chair position after a state convention that lasted nearly 11 hours on Saturday. A former community college professor, Karamo lost her secretary of state race by 14 percentage points after she mounted a campaign filled with election conspiracies.
She now inherits a state party torn by infighting and saddled with millions of dollars in debt—and will be tasked with trying to win back control of the Legislature, flipping one of the nation’s most competitive Senate seats, and attempting to help a presidential candidate win the battleground state.
Addressing delegates before the vote, Karamo said that “our party is dying” and needs to be rebuilt into “a political machine that strikes fear in the heart of Democrats.”
Notably absent from her speech were an array of conspiracy theories and bigoted viewpoints she espoused on the campaign trail last year—including comparing abortion to child sacrifice; falsely claiming that Donald Trump won the 2020 election; downplaying the Jan. 6 insurrection; condemning LGBTQ relationships; accusing women of being addicted to porn; and declaring that couples who live together before marriage somehow opens the door to pedophilia.
Karamo rose to prominence following the 2020 presidential election when she appeared 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.” Karamo has never provided any evidence to back up her claims, which have been thoroughly debunked.
Her election solidifies the hold that far-right activists have on the party after the GOP suffered sweeping electoral losses in 2022.
“The Republican Party continues to cement itself as the party of MAGA extremism. By making Kristina Karamo the Chair of the Michigan GOP, they are handing the keys of the party over to a bizarre conspiracy theorist who poses a serious threat to our democracy,” End Citizens United and Let America Vote President Tiffany Muller said in a press release. “We beat back this threat to democracy in 2022 and we look forward to doing it again in 2024 and beyond.”
It took three rounds of voting at the convention for delegates to pick Karamo over former attorney general candidate Matthew DePerno, a fellow election denier who had been endorsed by Trump and is under investigation for allegedly trying to tamper with voting machines.
With a field dominated by ultra-conservative, conspiratorial, 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,” said former longtime Republican US Rep. Fred Upton. “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.
The state party previously raised up to $35 million each election cycle, and has been led by former US Sen. Spencer Abraham, former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and national Republican Party Chair Ronna McDaniel.
During former Chair Bobby Schostak’s time behind the wheel of the GOP from 2011 to 2015, Republicans managed to maintain control of the Legislature and Rick Snyder, a Republican, was reelected as governor. Trump also 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 state GOP grew increasingly loyal to Trump, nominating his handpicked candidates, DePerno and Karamo. Tudor Dixon, who lost her race for governor, said her campaign was hurt by the state party not having as much money as in the past. If donors once again decide in large numbers not to give to the state party under Karamo’s leadership, they will need to find other ways of helping candidates before 2024.
“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.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.