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With Trump closing in on nomination, the effective audition to become his vice president is underway

With Trump closing in on nomination, the effective audition to become his vice president is underway

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — As she addressed a crushing crowd of volunteers and media at Donald Trump’s New Hampshire headquarters on Saturday, New York Rep. Elise Stefanik received a welcome chant.

“VP! VP! VP!” one man shouted across the room.

While vice presidential candidates typically aren’t picked until after a candidate has locked down the nomination, Trump’s decisive win in last week’s Iowa caucuses and the departure of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis from the race have only heightened what had already been a widespread sense of inevitability that he will be the Republican nominee. That has given the campaign trail stops by Stefanik and other Republicans the feel of a public tryout reminiscent of Trump’s days as a reality TV host.

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Many Republicans covet a spot on the presidential ticket with Trump as a chance to serve in a high-profile role that has elevated many ambitious politicians from relative obscurity.

That interest comes despite the fate of Trump’s first vice president, Mike Pence. For four years, Pence was Trump’s most loyal defender, advocating for him at every turn. But in the final months of their administration, Trump turned on Pence, casting him as disloyal for refusing to go along with his unconstitutional effort to block President Joe Biden’s win.

Pence’s role in certifying the 2020 election not only threatened his life during the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol but also sidelined his political career. He would end his own bid for this year’s GOP presidential nomination in October after failing to get traction. Many of Trump’s supporters still believe the former president’s lies about the election and view Pence as a traitor.

The Trump campaign has held several events in both Iowa and New Hampshire with high-profile surrogates.

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FILE – Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, right, speaks as former President Donald Trump listens during a rally, Oct. 9, 2022, in Mesa, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

Beyond serving as opportunities to display their loyalty and star power to Trump’s team, the events serve as a reward for volunteers as well as a recruiting tool that brings in new faces, senior Trump officials said.

Stefanik joined Trump on stage at his Friday night rally in New Hampshire and stopped by his campaign headquarters the next morning to thank volunteers and make calls. In both appearances, she stressed that she was the first member of Congress to endorse Trump’s comeback bid.

“I’m proud to be one of his strongest supporters, particularly at key moments,” she told reporters. Asked if she would consider being his running mate, Stefanik said, “Of course I’d be honored, I’ve said that for a year, to serve in a future Trump administration in any capacity.”

Others who have appeared in Iowa and New Hampshire on Trump’s behalf include Sen. JD Vance of Ohio, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, Arizona Senate candidate Kari Lake and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. Lake was at a rally Sunday night taking pictures with supporters and holding a baby in the crowd.

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FILE – Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., waves while former President Donald Trump points to her in Bedminster, N.J., July 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

Former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy appeared with Trump on stage in New Hampshire a day after dropping out of the race, also drawing “VP” chants from the crowd as he delivered a fiery speech.

And at the same rally where Stefanik spoke, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, Trump’s former rival in the presidential race, announced his enthusiastic endorsement in what sounded like his own audition.

“We need Donald Trump!” said Scott, leading the crowd in an impassioned call-and-response full of the fervor many of his own campaign appearances seemed to lack. Trump stood behind him grinning.

Trump, too, has been stoking the speculation, saying during a recent Fox News town hall that he already knows “who it’s going to be.” He told Fox News host Bret Baier over the weekend that ”there’s probably a 25% chance” that he would ultimately pick the person he had in mind, adding: “The person that I think I like is a very good person, pretty standard. I think people won’t be that surprised.”

Jason Miller, a senior campaign adviser, declined to address vice presidential prospects or speculation about potential running mates. But he said those who have campaigned on Trump’s behalf in Iowa and New Hampshire “have drawn massive crowds and have all done a fantastic job of energizing voters to turn out for President Trump. So we’re very happy and very excited with both the jobs that they’ve all done but as well, the reception that they’ve all received,” he said.

Trump has been talking through potential choices since well before he formally launched his campaign, throwing out names, peppering friends and Mar-a-Lago members for feedback, and keeping a close eye on those jockeying for the post.

In those conversations, he has often indicated his interest in selecting a woman. Allies also say that while loyalty — and having a dependable attack dog who can effectively defend him — is paramount, Trump is also cognizant that he would enter a second term as a lame duck president and wouldn’t want a second-in-command who might overshadow him with immediate 2028 speculation.

Among those considered high on the list is Stefanik, a member of House Republican leadership who has seen her profile rise after her aggressive questioning of a trio of university presidents over antisemitism set in motion two of their resignations.

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Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump shakes hands with Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., at a campaign event in Concord, N.H., Friday, Jan. 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Vance said he wouldn’t pretend to give Trump advice on the decision, but that Nikki Haley, Trump’s last remaining major Republican rival, would be a poor choice. “Stefanik’s great. Kristi Noem’s great. I think all these people are great. Tim Scott’s a very, very good dude and would make a great vice president,” he said.

Trump has already effectively ruled out Haley. He said at a rally in Concord last week that his former U.N. ambassador is “not presidential timber.”

Haley is staunchly opposed by many in Trump’s “MAGA” base, including his son, Donald Trump Jr., who said he would go to “great lengths” to prevent her from being offered the job.

Other potential contenders mentioned by Trump allies include Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, his former press secretary, Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who recently endorsed Trump after dropping his own White House bid, Florida Rep. Byron Donalds and Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

Susan Ingrahm-Kelly, 64, from Bedford, New Hampshire, visited Trump’s campaign headquarters to see Stefanik in person Saturday and raved about the congresswoman’s questioning of Ivy League presidents.

“Oh, I think she’s fabulous!” she said. “I absolutely love what she did, this whole thing with the Harvard.”

Ingrahm-Kelly, who is leaning toward voting for Trump on Tuesday, said she also likes the idea of another woman vice president. “I like to see strong, educated, articulate women, don’t we? I think she’s fantastic.”

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