GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The GOP's choice to run the office overseeing Michigan's election system continues to echo former president Donald Trump's unproven claims of a stolen election in 2020.
A self-proclaimed anti-vaxxer who opposes teaching evolution in schools, Kristina Karamo has been endorsed by state Republicans to be the next secretary of state, an office that would make her the Wolverine State's top election official.
Karamo was endorsed by the party in April, an imprimatur that makes her all but certain to be chosen the official Republican nominee at the party's state convention Saturday.
Karamo was one of Trump’s early endorsements in the 2022 elections. She spent the months leading up to the April Michigan GOP convention promoting the baseless claim that the 2020 election results were fraudulent.
Her candidacy is an example of how the election for the previously obscure secretary of state office in Michigan and other swing states has been thrust into national prominence thanks to Trump's claims of a stolen election.
Not only will Karamo's race test the boundaries of how election deniers perform nationwide to run various states' elections, it also could mean the 2024 presidential election in a crucial swing state is run by someone who denies the legitimacy of the last White House contest.
Michigan is one of at least four swing states where GOP candidates whom Trump has either endorsed or supported are coordinating their efforts at the behest of those in the former president's orbit.
Vincent Hutchings, a political science professor at the University of Michigan, said that although a Karamo victory in November against incumbent Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is unlikely, her campaign will test the popularity of far-right ideas promulgated by the former president and apply pressure to the election system in a battleground state.
“She had been a true believer (in election denial) from the beginning,” Hutchings said.
Trump: 'Making sure Michigan is not rigged and stolen again'
The political newcomer caught Trump’s attention after claiming she witnessed fraud as an outspoken 2020 poll challenger in Detroit and secured his endorsement in September.
"This is about making sure Michigan is not rigged and stolen again in 2024," Trump said at an April rally with Karamo in Washington Township, Michigan. "So whatever you do, make sure you send a slate of delegates to support Kristina Karamo and Matt DePerno," the Republican party’s unofficial attorney general nominee.
Karamo, a Black Christian conservative who dubbed herself a little MAGA warrior, began echoing Trump’s false statements about the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 insurrection prior to launching her campaign. On a local Fox television station appearance in December 2020, she claimed without proof that 6,000 ballots in Antrim County, Michigan intentionally had been changed from Trump to Joe Biden through the Dominion Voting Systems software the county was using.
A state Senate investigation “found no evidence of widespread or systemic fraud in Michigan’s prosecution of the 2020 election,” according to a committee report.
“I saw illegal activity upon illegal activity," Karamo said in October. "And I realized, if we don’t cure our election system, we no longer have a republic, we have a fake country, it’s an illusion, it’s a facade of a republic. So I have to do something."
Since winning the nomination in April, she has softened her rhetoric to appeal to a broader audience.
“I’m fighting for the people of Michigan, irrespective of political affiliation,” Karamo said.
She did not respond to requests for comment.
Karamo messaging parallels Trump rhetoric
On an episode of her theology and politics podcast, released the day after the Jan. 6 insurrection, Karamo said participants in the insurrection were “totally Antifa posing as Trump supporters” – another debunked claim.
Her podcast also sheds light on her other beliefs. She called public schools “government indoctrination camps,” has accused Democrats of having a “satanic agenda,” and said LGBTQ people “violate God’s creative design.”
While many Republicans already might have accepted her election denial claims, Hutchings said, they are “probably not a winner” in other sectors of the American electorate.
Election security experts and election officials have found voter fraud is a rare occurrence and U.S. elections are secure. Claims around insecure elections aim to “suppress votes” and undermine trust in democracy, according to a 2020 report by the Brennan Center on election security.
Michigan on the national stage
Benson, Michigan’s top election official since 2018, said she has monitored Trump’s involvement in her race after she received persistent threats from his supporters for refusing to overturn Biden’s 2020 win in Michigan.
“The former president has not been shy about his desire to continue to interfere with our elections process here in Michigan,” Benson said.
During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Aug. 3 on intimidation of election workers, Benson spoke about the menacing protestors that gathered outside her home following the 2020 election because of the repeated claims of election fraud.
"Right now we are facing an unprecedented wave of continuous, unrelenting harassment and threats," she told the panel. "Enduring these threats creates a near constant strain of anxiety and stress on our work. This status quo is unsustainable and unacceptable."
Despite Trump’s September endorsement of her opponent, Benson has significantly outraised Karamo, according to recent data from the Michigan Secretary of State’s office. Through early August, Benson’s campaign reported raising more than $3.7 million while Karamo's reported contributions totaling nearly $700,00.
Anne Nelson, an adjunct research scholar of international and public affairs at Columbia University, said Michigan still plays “an outsized role in the electoral map” heading into 2024.
It’s a swing state that helped send Democrats to the White House from the early 1990s until 2012 and carries 16 electoral votes. Trump's narrow win in Michigan in 2016 and Biden's close victory in 2020 proved important to both candidates' ascension to the White House.
“So there’s a lot riding on these," Nelson said. "Not just secretaries of state but also governor’s races because they have veto power and other powers that will influence the outcome.”
Contributing: Clara Hendrickson, Detroit Free Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Michigan secretary of state nominee echoes Trump's election denials