Michigan GOP co-chair endorses Matt DePerno for attorney general

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Meshawn Maddock, co-chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, endorsed Matthew DePerno for attorney general Monday, an unusual step by a GOP leader amid a contentious convention race.

The decision by Maddock, who's an influential figure among the party's grassroots, is a win for DePerno, who's already been endorsed by former President Donald Trump. Maddock is one of Trump's top allies in Michigan.

Meshawn Maddock speaks to a large crowd at  the Trumperware event in Flushing, Michigan on Saturday, April 13, 2019. Max Ortiz, The Detroit News

Ordinarily, party chairs stay out of convention and primary fights to avoid claims of bias and to focus their attention on campaigns against Democrats. But the Michigan GOP's ethnic vice chairwoman, Bernadette Smith, joined Maddock on Monday in announcing support for DePerno.

In a statement, Tyson Shepard, DePerno's campaign manager, said it was time for the party to unite behind DePerno.

"These strong women have been great leaders in the conservative movement in Michigan and nationwide," Shepard said. "Matt is honored to have their support and guidance in our campaign to take back Michigan."

On April 23, Republican delegates will meet in Grand Rapids to endorse a nominee for attorney general. DePerno is competing for the nomination with former state House Speaker Tom Leonard of DeWitt and state Rep. Ryan Berman of Commerce Township.

Leonard, who previously served as the party's finance chairman, ran for attorney general in 2018, losing to Democrat Dana Nessel by less than 3 percentage points.

Nessel is seeking a second term as the state's top law enforcement official this fall.

The upcoming GOP convention race will be a test of Trump's strength within the party. The former president endorsed DePerno on Sept. 16, wrote a letter to delegates in support of him in February and hosted a fundraiser for him last week.

"I can't tell you how important this race is," Trump said of Michigan's attorney general's campaign at the fundraiser at his Mar-a-Lago property last week.

Maddock, who serves as co-chairwoman with Chairman Ron Weiser, attended the fundraiser.

"It's simple," Maddock said Monday. "We need a fighter in order to defeat Dana Nessel, and now is the time to unite our party behind our strongest candidate. That's Matt DePerno."

Maddock also endorsed Kristina Karamo for secretary of state — one of three candidates seeking the GOP nomination for that position. The other two are state Rep. Beau LaFave of Iron Mountain and Cindy Berry, the clerk of Chesterfield Township.

Trump previously endorsed Karamo. The former president is expected to campaign for DePerno in Michigan in the coming weeks.

Leonard has been endorsed by Right to Life of Michigan, the Police Officers Association of Michigan and a majority of the Republican members of the state Legislature.

His campaign released a letter of support from state Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte, on Monday.

"Tom Leonard is a real conservative with a strong track record of defending our shared values and principles," Barrett said in the letter.

Matthew DePerno

In a statement, Leonard said his campaign is focused on uniting the party and putting together a campaign that will defeat Nessel.

"Our grassroots support speaks for itself," Leonard said. "It's steadfast, strong and growing every day."

Usually, Republican Party leaders stay out of internal races, especially if they don't involve incumbents. Maddock's latest endorsements were "on a personal capacity," said Gus Portela, spokesman for the Michigan GOP.

"The chairman is laser focused on bringing in the necessary funds to ensure the party can compete in the fall and elect Republicans at all levels this fall," Portela said of Weiser.

DePerno, a lawyer from Kalamazoo, has been critical of Republican lawmakers' handling of the November 2020 election. He led a legal effort that gained national attention to challenge the results in northern Michigan's Antrim County, where the initial tallies were incorrect because of human errors. He has tied the mistakes to problems with election technology, specifically Dominion Voting Systems.

A Republican-led Senate committee that reviewed Michigan's 2020 election for potential fraud labeled DePerno's Antrim County claims "demonstrably false and based on misleading information and illogical conclusions" in a June report.