5 dark-horse contenders for Trump’s VP

A number of high-profile Republicans have been floated as prospective running mates for former President Trump, but as he inches closer to a decision, it remains unclear who he will ultimately pick.

While Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) are considered some of the leading contenders, strategists say the former president could end up going with an unexpected choice.

“The fundraising, the media savviness, the loyalty to the America First agenda, I think those are the most important things,” said one Republican strategist. “But you know Trump, he is unpredictable and he will keep you guessing all the way until the convention.”

Former New York Rep. Lee Zeldin’s (R-N.Y.) name has come up this week, while some argue that Trump’s former rival, ex-U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, could strike a unifying tone among Republicans and expand the party’s base.

Here are five potential dark-horse candidates Trump could choose as his running mate.

Nikki Haley

Haley and Trump battled head-to-head through Super Tuesday earlier this year, despite Trump being the favorite to win the nomination. While the race turned bitter and personal, Haley has been seen as a figure who could help grow Trump’s base inside and outside the GOP.

“On your dark horse list, Nikki Haley is probably the most likely because of what she brings,” the Republican strategist told The Hill.

Despite dropping out of the race, Haley has continued to win significant portions of the vote in subsequent Republican primaries. In some states, Haley has garnered close to or more than 20 percent of the vote. While Haley and Trump share many policy similarities, they are seen as representing very different wings of GOP and have very different brands.

Haley said last month she would vote for Trump, but it’s unclear what her role in a Trump campaign would look like — or if she would even have one. Trump said in a Truth Social post earlier last month that Haley “is not under consideration” to be his vice-presidential pick, but later in the month, he said he believed Haley would be on his team in some form.

“We have a lot of the same ideas, the same thoughts,” Trump said, following Haley saying she would vote for him. “I appreciated what she said. You know, we had a nasty campaign, it was pretty nasty. But she’s a very capable person, and I’m sure she’s going to be on our team in some form, absolutely.”

Lee Zeldin

While Zeldin ultimately lost his bid to challenge New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) in 2022, he has continued to enjoy a high profile among Republicans due to his performance in the Democratic stronghold.

Hochul defeated Zeldin 53 percent to 47 percent, but Zeldin received the highest share of votes seen by a New York Republican gubernatorial nominee in years.

Zeldin’s role in helping make New York more competitive has caused some to float him as a potential vice-presidential pick.

“That is nothing to sneeze at,” the Republican strategist said, referring to Zeldin’s 2022 campaign. “If you can push the envelope in blue states, then you’re showing that you’re somebody who can expand the map on the campaign trail.”

Additionally, Zeldin is seen as strong at raising funds, which is always an asset for running mates.

“Lee Zeldin raised a ton of money in New York,” the strategist added.

“You need money to expand the map. The reason why things are looking good for Trump right now is basically because Biden is retreating on the map.”

Wesley Hunt

Texas Rep. Wesley Hunt (R) has emerged not only as a rising GOP star, but also as a vocal Trump supporter.

Hunt, along with Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) — who has also been floated as a potential running mate — were in deep-blue Philadelphia this week in an effort to appeal to Black men. Recent polls have suggested enthusiasm for Biden among the voting bloc could be dimming, presenting an opportunity to Hunt and Donalds to reach out to the group on behalf of Trump.

“This is not 1964. This is 2024,” Hunt said at the event, billed as “Congress, Cognac and Cigars.” “Do you know when’s the best time to be Black in America? Right now, tomorrow!”

Hunt also spoke at the opening of a Trump campaign office in Philadelphia during the same trip. The Texas congressman has also taken to the cable news airwaves to tout the former president, something Trump appreciates in his supporters.

Maria Elvira Salazar

Like Hunt, Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.) is also considered a rising star within the GOP. The Miami-area congresswoman was elected in 2020, flipping Florida’s 27th Congressional District, which was considered “likely Democratic” at the time by the Cook Political Report.

Prior to serving in Congress, Salazar was a well-known broadcast journalist with Univision. Political observers point out her identity as a Latina could play well for Trump as the GOP looks to continue to make inroads among Hispanic and Latino voters and improve their standing among women voters.

And like the majority of the other floated vice-presidential picks, Salazar has been a vocal defender of the former president in the face of legal woes. The congresswoman was among numerous Republicans to travel to New York City to support Trump during his hush money trial.

However, because Trump is now a resident of the Sunshine State, the 12th Amendment — which states that presidential and vice presidential candidates on the same ticket must be from different states — could present a roadblock for her.

And even then, many say Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) would be first in line.

“If there is a way around the 12th Amendment, then that puts Marco Rubio legitimately in the top two,” the strategist said.

Greg Abbott

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has also been floated as a potential pick, given his high profile within the Republican Party. As the governor of a state with the largest border with Mexico, Abbott has been a leading Republican voice on the southern border. The governor has gone head-to-head with the Biden administration on the issue, making national headlines.

In March, Trump said Abbott was “absolutely” on his list of vice-presidential contenders.

Following Trump’s guilty verdict last week, Abbott said the trial was a “persecution” not a “prosecution.”

“There’s every reason to expect this decision to be overturned. But also, most Americans view this as a miscarriage of justice,” Abbott told CNBC. “And you can see it in the fundraising numbers, the polling numbers, that Trump has been able to receive in the aftermath of it. And also, maybe in part because this, maybe for other reasons, you’re seeing Trump gain more support in the Black community, in the Hispanic community, in all communities across the United States of America. This is not a prosecution, this is a persecution.”

Still, observers note that Abbott’s chances of being chosen by Trump as a vice presidential candidate appear to be relatively low compared to other potential contenders.

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