Scott Pearson doesn’t know much about Matthew DePerno or Kristina Karamo. But he knows they’re Republicans and they’re not the current attorney general or secretary of state, so the 58-year-old autoworker from Shelby Township told a pollster recently he’d vote for them this fall. “When I go to the polls, so maybe when other people are in the polls too, you look at the name (of the incumbent) and you go, ‘Wow, I know her. I know what she did, and I don’t like it. What’s the other guy? Let’s try that one,'” Pearson told the Free Press in a phone interview Thursday. “Sort of like, I went to this restaurant, I had the hamburger. I didn’t like it, let me try the spaghetti. That’s what we’re doing.” When the Free Press told Pearson that DePerno is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation because he allegedly tampered with voting equipment − DePerno has denied all wrongdoing − that made Pearson like the Kalamazoo attorney more. Then the Free Press told Pearson that Karamo previously spoke at a conference with ties to QAnon, a loosely organized group of conspiracy theorists who falsely believe the country is run by a “deep state” cadre of Satan-worshiping pedophiles, and suggested yoga is a “satanic ritual.”
His responses are indicative of a slew of problems facing the Republican candidates trying to oust Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, the Democratic incumbents.
A new poll commissioned by the Free Press and its media partners and conducted by Lansing-based company EPIC-MRA found Benson leads Karamo by 51-37 in the poll, and Nessel leads DePerno by a 48-39 margin. Both Democrats increased their leads, based on the findings of an August poll by the same company. Perhaps more concerning for both Republicans: Despite absentee ballots going out next week, and the general election less than 50 days from now, more than 3 out of 4 people polled didn’t recognize DePerno’s or Karamo’s names.
The poll of 600 likely voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. It was conducted between Sept. 15 and Sept. 19 by live interviewers, with roughly 70% of respondents reached on their cellphones.
During a recent meeting with the Free Press editorial board, DePerno acknowledged name recognition was an issue for his campaign. A lot of people don’t know me, they only know sort of a caricature of me that’s created by the media,” he said, also suggesting journalists mischaracterized some of his efforts to undermine the 2020 election.
The DePerno and Karamo campaigns did not immediately respond to questions about the poll findings. Sarah Stevenson, a spokesperson for the Nessel campaign, said the attorney general’s lead would only grow as voters learn more about DePerno’s unfounded allegations about voter fraud and his broad stance against abortion rights.
Voters know that AG Nessel will stand up for their right to determine their own reproductive choices, fight to protect consumers from price-gougers and other scammers, and safeguard the will of Michigan voters no matter who they cast a ballot for,” Stevenson said. Benson spokesperson Liz Boyd said the campaign is not concentrating on poll results. “We’re not focused on polls though this one shows it is becoming readily apparent that the choice for secretary of state is clear,” Boyd said.
“Secretary Benson is on the move and has the results to prove it compared to her opponent who is an election denier, more focused on criminalizing abortion than on running the Secretary of State’s Office.”
Barring a “catastrophic issue,” EPIC-MRA President Bernie Porn said this could be a rough fall for DePerno and Karamo.
“You need to get well known before you can get people to have a favorable opinion of you,” Porn said, noting reports indicating both Karamo and DePerno have far smaller campaign war chests than Benson and Nessel.
“There’s just going to be a real uphill battle for them, especially when the top of the ticket is running as strong as (Gov. Gretchen) Whitmer is and it’s starting to have an impact down the ballot.”
The same poll found Whitmer with a 55% to 39% advantage over GOP challenger Tudor Dixon.
But Anna Heaton, a former press secretary for ex-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and other Republicans, thinks there’s still time for DePerno and Karamo to increase their name identification. She noted both are supported by former President Donald Trump, and suggested his Michigan rally on Oct. 1 will put their names in front of voters more attuned to the political cycle as Election Day approaches. She also said that in theory, there’s a world where not knowing too much about DePerno and Karamo may actually help their campaigns “These are two candidates where all press is not good press. Especially when it comes to independent and swing voters, knowing less about their more problematic statements and alleged criminal actions might actually earn them a vote for simply having an R next to their name,” Heaton said. Porn said that even if that were the case, both DePerno and Karamo would need to earn essentially all of the Republican vote and still grab enough independents to win. But his poll found that DePerno grabbed 81% of the GOP respondents polled, with Karamo at 75%. While 41% of respondents overall self-identified as Republicans, both DePerno and Karamo came in below that percentage in terms of all poll respondents who would vote for them.
“Now when you’ve got the Republicans running below the party base − not only Dixon, but also DePerno and Karamo − that’s real red flag,” Porn said. “Although the Republicans may well vote for them, it’s not going to be in the same numbers. And they’re not running as strong in terms of the vote among Republicans as Nessel and Benson are among Democrats.” Both Nessel and Benson earned more than 90% of the vote from self-identified Democrats in the poll. The general election is Nov. 8, but absentee ballots will be available starting late next week.
Detroit Free Press