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Trump has touted potential VP picks for months. He may end up picking someone off the public’s radar

<i>Francis Chung/POLITICO/AP via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Former President Donald Trump delivers remarks at the Libertarian National Convention at the Washington Hilton in Washington
Francis Chung/POLITICO/AP via CNN Newsource
Former President Donald Trump delivers remarks at the Libertarian National Convention at the Washington Hilton in Washington

By Kristen Holmes and Steve Contorno, CNN

(CNN) — In recent weeks, an increasingly familiar list of Republicans has dominated the not-very-subtle competition to become Donald Trump’s running mate. Trump himself has added to the air of inevitability by floating these names in interviews and appearances over and over.

But there’s a steady drumbeat of speculation within Trump’s orbit that the former president’s flair for the dramatic will at some point take over. Many around the campaign believe the lack of secrecy surrounding the open audition raises the possibility Trump ultimately picks someone off the public’s radar.

“Historically, the more he says a name, the less likely it is to be that person,” one adviser told CNN, but noted that they too were speculating.

Trump has batted around the same names for months and many of them have spent their recent weeks making public demonstrations of their loyalty, appearing outside the Manhattan courthouse where Trump is on trial or defending him on television. When asked about his potential options in an interview last week, Trump responded, “We have so many, I don’t want to do that,” before rattling off several names frequently mentioned as likely contenders: former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance and Rep. Elise Stefanik.

“But I could go on for quite a long time,” he added.

Trump has also routinely asked allies their thoughts on Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, both of whom have appeared at recent campaign rallies and regularly defend the former president on cable news.

Still, a decision is unlikely until right before or at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee in July, as Trump and his team try to build anticipation surrounding an announcement to maximize the political impact of the selection.

Against that backdrop, the list of names under consideration seems to be growing, not shrinking. Trump’s openness to feedback from donors, allies and advisers has also left room for those in his orbit to pitch their top choices to the former president and the media alike. In recent weeks, that has included new consideration for Florida Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, former Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and even former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

Within Trump’s orbit, a growing number of influential voices have encouraged the former president to consider picking a running mate who is Hispanic. The search for a potential bilingual running mate who could help make in-roads with a critical voting bloc has often centered on Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants who regularly defends Trump in English and Spanish.

But two sources with knowledge of these conversations said Salazar’s name has circulated as well. Salazar, a respected television journalist for Univision before winning a seat in Congress in 2020, provided a fierce defense of the former president while attending his hush money trial in New York. Salazar likened the legal case against Trump to the political prosecution remembered by the residents of her district, many of Cuban and Venezuelan decent.

“I am here of my own volition, I am not on the list of the favorites, I am not looking for a job and I paid for my own way,” Salazar said outside the Manhattan courthouse, before echoing Trump’s claims of political persecution. “Thousands of my constituents back in Miami are terrified when the courts in this country are used as weapons to crush our political enemies.”

Salazar and Trump interacted at Mar-a-Lago in recent months, a source familiar with their relationship told CNN. Salazar and her husband, Lester Woerner, a wealthy businessman based in Palm Beach, are friendly with members of the Trump family, the source added.

Still, Salazar’s relative inexperience would make her a bold, if not unlikely, dark horse to be first in line to the presidency. Salazar also faces the same potential Florida residency hurdle as Rubio. While there is no law preventing a president and vice president of the US being from the same state, Article II of the Constitution prevents electors from voting for two people from the same state.

The rule would be even more relevant in a close election, and the Trump campaign currently predicts that the 2024 race will be close, according to conversations with multiple Trump advisers.

Cotton would bring more than a decade of Washington experience to the ticket – serving one term in the US House before being elected to the US Senate in 2014 – as well as a military background. Unlike his Senate colleagues who are regularly asked about running alongside Trump, Cotton had flown under the radar until The New York Times last week reported he had emerged as an unexpected contender for the job. A source confirmed Trump floated Cotton’s name during a recent private dinner, surprising some of his guests.

The source, though, also walked away from the interaction believing Trump is not close to landing on a running mate and isn’t yet having serious conversations with his team to narrow the potential field of candidates.

“This is all still in Trump’s mind,” the person said.

Another source explained the interest in Cotton as stemming from Trump’s willingness to hear from outside voices – in this case, allies of Cotton hoping to pique Trump’s interest in the senator.

One source in Trump’s orbit insisted that Gabbard, a former Democratic presidential candidate, remains under consideration. After the two met, Trump had indicated a strong affinity for Gabbard and her party switch has made her an intriguing surrogate to the former president. But she faces an uphill climb after voting to impeach Trump while in Congress – a fact he was recently reminded of by his aides, sources close to him said.

Another name that’s been floated privately is Tennessee’s Hagerty. At a recent fundraiser in New York hosted by billionaire Howard Lutnick, Hagerty attended as a special guest alongside most of the Republicans regularly mentioned as top-tier veepstakes contenders.

Doug Kaplan, president of Kaplan Strategies, released a poll in April on how potential running mates would fare with Trump in four swing states vs. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Hagerty was included in the poll (though his name was misspelled with two G’s) along with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, Carson, Rubio and Vance.

Kaplan told CNN he included Hagerty because he was “trying to think outside the box.”

“He doesn’t have great name recognition,” Kaplan said. But he added Hagerty is “someone Trump respects on foreign policy” and is “one of those do no harm guys.”

Others said they had only heard Hagerty’s name floated for roles in a potential Trump administration including national security adviser and secretary of state. Hagerty previously served as ambassador to Japan under Trump.

Earlier this year, Hagerty was spotted at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach with the former president. A source close to Trump called it “simply two friends having lunch.”

Some Republicans have privately – and even publicly – pitched Trump to assemble a team of rivals that would include Haley as his running mate. Despite having dropped out of the race months ago, Haley has continued to win a significant share of the vote in primary contests, including nearly 17% of the vote last month in Pennsylvania, a critical general election battleground. She also won about 22% of the vote in Indiana’s primary earlier this month, a surprising result in a traditionally red state.

Trump himself has referred to Haley as “tough” and told one person recently that she put up a good fight during the contentious fight for the Republican nomination.

Haley extended an olive branch last week when she said she would vote for the former president in her first public remarks since ending her own White House bid. Still, despite Trump’s welcoming her support and indicating she could play a part in the campaign, the two have yet to speak.

Republican Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina, who endorsed Haley in the primary before switching his support to Trump, said he believes she should be on the GOP ticket —an argument he made to both Republicans.

“For Nikki Haley, in Indiana, to pull over 20% and not be on the ballot is amazing,” Norman told CNN. “That’s why she would make a great VP candidate. And I made that pitch to President Trump and also to Nikki Haley.”

Norman said that while Haley has not expressed interest in joining Trump’s ticket, he believes she would consider it.

“Politics is an interesting game,” Norman said. “People can forget the past and look forward to the future.”

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