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Republican hopefuls bash Democratic opponents ahead of Trump speech in Warren

Detroit Free Press logo Detroit Free Press 10/2/2022 Paul Egan, Clara Hendrickson and Todd Spangler, Detroit Free Press

WARREN − Tudor Dixon, the Republican nominee for governor, used her platform at a Saturday rally headlined by former President Donald Trump to hammer on hot-button cultural issues that have been a centerpiece of her campaign.

At the Macomb County rally in which allies of the president rehashed debunked conspiracies about the 2020 election, Dixon joined GOP secretary of state candidate Kristina Karamo and attorney general candidate Matt DePerno to bolster their electoral prospects this fall.

The trio of candidates vying for Michigan's top statewide offices cast the incumbent Democrats they face — and the policies championed by their opponents — as an existential threat to the country to the crowd of Trump supporters. All three have embraced false claims that fraud and other misconduct affected the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

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They also oppose abortion rights, seen as a top issue among Michigan voters this fall.

Trump took the stage at 7:18 p.m. At the beginning of his remarks, he criticized Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and other Democrats as extreme and said their agenda and that of President Joe Biden has led to record inflation. "If you want to save the American dream, you have to vote Republican," he said. "I don't think you have a choice."

He went on to attack Democrats for being weak on border security and increasing government spending. "You may never recover," he said, if Democrats retain control in Michigan and in Congress. "We will save the day."

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During a lengthy speech, Dixon attempted to partially defuse the issue surrounding her own hard-line stance on abortion rights — one that has many Republican and independent women saying they are reluctant to vote for her.

Dixon, a Norton Shores businesswoman and former conservative TV commentator, favors an abortion ban with no exceptions for rape, incest, or the health of the pregnant person. Dixon has said the only abortion she would condone is one to save the life of the pregnant person. Millions of dollars in Democratic TV ads have pilloried Dixon over that position in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, labeling the mother of four as far too extreme to govern Michigan.

On Saturday, Dixon attempted to shift the significance of the issue, saying the Whitmer campaign is lying when it suggests abortion is an issue that Dixon, as governor, would be in a position to do something about.

"You all know it’s on the ballot," Dixon said, referring to Proposal 3, a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot this fall that would enshrine abortion rights in the Michigan Constitution.

If Proposal 3 is defeated, Michigan could be subject to a 1931 law, still on the books but currently unenforceable under a judge's order, that criminalizes most abortions. Even if Michigan voters adopt Proposal 3, the Legislature could pass new abortion restrictions, which the governor would be asked to sign into law.

Dixon kicked off her speech blasting Whitmer's COVID-19 policies as she called on the crowd to remember when Whitmer suggested Michiganders Google how they could cut their hair when businesses were ordered to shut down. "Maybe she can Google the job listings because I think she’s going to be out of work soon," Dixon said. She smiled as the crowd chanted "lock her up."

Karamo's speech also prompted "lock her up" chants when she accused Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson of corrupting Michigan's election system despite court rulings and reviews that undermine GOP claims alleging misconduct by Benson. Karamo gained national prominence for leveling unfounded allegations about the vote count in Detroit in 2020.

Karamo told the crowd that secretary of state offices have "never before in American history been so inextricably linked to our liberty."

Kristina Karamo, a Republican running for Michigan Secretary of State laughs with the crowd during her talk to them before former President Donald TrumpÕs speech at the Macomb Community College, Sports and Expo Center in Warren on Saturday, October 1, 2022. © Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press Kristina Karamo, a Republican running for Michigan Secretary of State laughs with the crowd during her talk to them before former President Donald TrumpÕs speech at the Macomb Community College, Sports and Expo Center in Warren on Saturday, October 1, 2022.

"We are our last hope," she said. "History is screaming to us that if we don't step up and fight now, we will lose the greatest country in human history." She called it "humbling" to return to Macomb County Community College where she said she graduated and first became politically active as a member of the college Republicans.

DePerno followed Karamo, walking on stage to German composer Carl Orff's dramatic "Carmina Burana." He began his remarks nicknaming Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel "dirty Dana," calling her "an embarrassment to the office," for drinking too much at a college football game.

He said policies favored by Biden, Whitmer and Nessel are "destroying this great state." He said Nessel "has prioritized criminals instead of victims" and "politicians instead of every one of you."

Matthew DePerno, a Republican running for Attorney General, waves to the crowd before her talk to them. Dixon and other politicians took to the stage before former President Donald Trump’s speech at the Macomb Community College, Sports and Expo Center in Warren on Saturday, October 1, 2022. © Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press Matthew DePerno, a Republican running for Attorney General, waves to the crowd before her talk to them. Dixon and other politicians took to the stage before former President Donald Trump’s speech at the Macomb Community College, Sports and Expo Center in Warren on Saturday, October 1, 2022.

GOP congressional candidates Paul Junge and John James also spoke Saturday.

Junge, a GOP candidate for Michigan's 8th Congressional District against Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee of Flint Township, highlighted inflation and promised to "protect our borders" during his speech Saturday. James, who is facing retired judge Carl Marlinga in the 10th Congressional District accused Democrats of putting Americans' public safety and freedom at risk. "They put America last when we put America first," he said, during a speech that drew loud applause.

More:Gretchen Whitmer's lead over Tudor Dixon grows to 16 percentage points in new poll

More:Benson, Nessel up big in new poll as GOP challengers struggle with name recognition

Dixon, DePerno and Karamo currently lag behind their Democratic opponents in fundraising and name recognition. An EPIC-MRA poll commissioned by the Free Press last month showed the three Democratic incumbents in the lead and that more than three-quarters of voters surveyed hadn't heard of DePerno or Karamo.

Trump announced his endorsements of DePerno and Karamo over a year ago and endorsed Dixon just days before the GOP gubernatorial primary in August. She won just under 40% of the vote in a crowded field. This fall will mark the first time DePerno or Karamo has appeared on a statewide ballot.

An estimated 5,000 people were in the crowd in the Macomb Community College Sport and Expo Center in Warren while the candidates spoke, close to two hours ahead of an expected speech by Trump. The college said there was seating for a little over 4,000 people and the Warren fire marshal said the room had a capacity of 6,600 for the event. The seats were full but there was still considerable standing room.

Becky Bensett, of Clinton Township, was standing near the end of a lengthy line to enter the Trump rally Saturday afternoon.

She said she has never seen Trump in person before and was excited about hearing him speak and hoping she didn't arrive too late. In 2024, "he will run," and have her support, she said. As for the Michigan governor's race, Bensett said she will be voting for Dixon. Asked about Whitmer's performance, Bensett said: "I never had a problem with her; everybody else did." However, "it's time for somebody new," she said.

The speakers Saturday repeatedly spoke out against schools that allow transgender girls to compete on sports teams consistent with their gender identity and educate children about LGBTQ issues.

U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain, R-Bruce Township, said "let’s make sure our kids learn their ABCs before they learn their LGBTQs." DePerno pointed to a quip from Nessel saying "drag queens make everything better."

"She said she wants to put a drag queen in every classroom," DePerno said, prompting a loud boo from the crowd. "Do you think we need drag queens in every classroom? No people, not just no, hell no."

Dixon accused Michigan teachers of assisting students in gender-related decisions, which is an allegation the Department of Education denies, and repeated her opposition to school athletes competing based on their gender identities.

Macomb County — long seen as a kind of bellwether of national political trends — voted for Trump in 2020 and 2016. But the incumbent Democrats running for reelection to Michigan's top statewide offices outperformed Democratic presidential candidates in the last two cycles in Macomb. Four years ago, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Secretary of State Benson won the county and while Attorney General Nessel lost it, she garnered a greater share of the vote than either Biden in 2020 or Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Trump last held a rally in Michigan in April, when he praised Dixon and touted DePerno and Karamo, promising his supporters that they "will protect us from a corrupt election."

Michigan voters have already begun requesting and returning absentee ballots. Polls are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 8.Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that this will be the first time DePerno or Karamo appears on a statewide ballot.

Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or pegan@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @paulegan4.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Republican hopefuls bash Democratic opponents ahead of Trump speech in Warren

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