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She hasn’t lived in the state in more than a decade, has never held political office and hasn’t said whether she’ll run, but Lara Trump’s possible campaign for North Carolina’s open U.S. Senate seat has for months loomed over the GOP field of would-be candidates.
Former President Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law — a North Carolina native — is seen both inside and outside the state as the candidate to beat, if she enters the contest.
“A Trump-endorsed candidate for an open Senate seat in a state Trump won is a big advantage. A Trump-endorsed candidate for an open Senate seat in a state Trump won who’s also named Trump has a humongous advantage,” said Kellyanne Conway, who was counselor to Trump for much of his four years in office.
Yet, with Lara Trump still on the sidelines and landing a new gig on Fox News, Republican candidates are preparing to move on without her.
Three-term U.S. Rep. Ted Budd is now “leaning towards” running for the Senate seat — an indication that Trump may not enter the race for several months or at all.
Budd’s campaign consultant and a top Republican donor indicated they’d like to see just one of the two in the race to replace retiring Sen. Richard Burr.
“He’s been talking to her. He hasn’t ceded his decision making to her, but if she got in, he wouldn’t run,” said Michael Luethy, Budd’s campaign consultant. “That said, she could get in in October and he could have been running for six months or so. It’s been a friendly conversation. He’s been trying to give her some space to make up her mind, too, while he’s working through his process separately.”
Trump, by virtue of her high name ID and the enduring popularity of Donald Trump among Republican primary voters, could enter the race later than other potential candidates and still garner enough donor and voter support to be competitive. The filing deadline is not until December.
A spokeswoman for Lara Trump did not respond to a request for comment on the Senate race.
The possibility that Trump could run has kept close friends and allies of the Trump family from endorsing or working for her potential rivals such as Budd — so far.
When Budd won his U.S. House seat in 2016, Club For Growth spent about $500,000 to boost him out of a 17-way Republican primary. The conservative group is again poised to back him but doesn’t want to choose between Budd and Trump.
“It would be best if they weren’t both running,” Club for Growth President David McIntosh said.
Former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker announced his candidacy in December. Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory is expected to enter the race, as well. Another Republican, Jen Banwart of Raleigh, who has pledged not to accept campaign donations, is also running.
Lara Trump was a senior adviser to her father-in-law’s reelection campaign in 2020. She is a former “Inside Edition” producer.
She recently accepted a paid position with Fox News, though in her first on-air appearance she acknowledged her potential Senate campaign.
In that appearance, Trump said of Fox News: “They have said, look, if that’s something that you ultimately decide to do, they’re going to work with me on that front and make sure that all the rules are followed and we do everything properly. Thank you to the Fox team for allowing me to have the possibility that that’s in the future.”
The Trump effect
Former President Trump is said to be supportive of a potential run by Lara, who is married to Trump’s son Eric.
“He just mentions how good he thinks that she would be but then says she’s working out whether she’s going to do it or not,” McIntosh said. “He’s very proud of her and obviously loves his family. That comes across in spades whenever the subject comes up.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Conway, who remains close to the former president.
“Politics has now clearly become part of the Trump family business portfolio, and he has long admired Lara’s ability to connect and communicate with voters,” Conway said.
McIntosh said Club for Growth has not polled the North Carolina Senate race yet but said Lara Trump is a “strong candidate who would win in the general election” in a year he expects to be good for Republicans running for federal office.
Donald Trump won North Carolina during his 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns. Lara Trump grew up in Wrightsville Beach and graduated from N.C. State.
A Meredith College poll released last month found Trump with an edge over McCrory with Walker and Budd trailing further behind. The number of Republicans in the sample was 217 and “don’t know” had nearly 40% — a sign of how early in the process it is.
“Lara Trump hasn’t made a decision yet as to the Senate race, but from the outpouring of home state support so far the Republican grassroots activists definitely have. They want Lara to run,” said Jason Miller, senior advisor to President Trump.
Several Democratic candidates for the seat have placed Lara Trump in their campaign launch videos, a sure way to fire up their base. Republicans have said less.
“Lara Trump comes from a wonderful family and has proven to be a strong supporter of the America First agenda. While her move to North Carolina to run for public office would be greeted, there is already a proven America First candidate running for the Senate,” the Walker campaign said, referencing Walker, who it called “the most pro-Trump member” of the North Carolina congressional delegation.
Trump has not lived in the state for 14 years, she said on Fox. She and husband Eric continued to reside in New York City after Donald Trump was elected.
McIntosh said he did not think that Lara Trump’s absence from North Carolina would be problematic for her if she returned to run for the Senate seat.
“I think her personality and the Trump name is so strong and broadly supported among Republicans, I think they would overcome that and North Carolinians would take a look at her,” McIntosh said. “Her narrative is going to be that’s where she was from originally, and she’s coming home.”
State Republican Party chairman Michael Whatley, who has ruled out a Senate run himself, said he has not spoken to Trump in the last couple months and is “giving her time to go through her process.” Whatley said the NCGOP would not get involved in a primary.
“Whoever comes out of the Republican side is going to be focused on an America First agenda,” Whatley said, referencing President Trump’s slogan.
Burr is in his third term in the U.S. Senate. He said in his 2016 reelection campaign that he would not run again. He voted to convict President Trump in the impeachment trial that stemmed from the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol in January.
Burr is one of five Senate Republicans who are not running for reelection, a number that could grow. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, the political arm of Senate Republicans, has also pledged not to get involved in primaries for open seats.
Budd, from Davie County, is a gun store owner and member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.
“We think he would be a great senator and are watching as he’s doing his own due diligence on the race. Expect to hear from us if he decides to get in the race, because we think he’d be terrific,” McIntosh said.
The current fundraising quarter began on April 1 and runs through June 30, making now an advantageous time for candidates to enter the race and show fundraising strength through a full quarter.
But Luethy said that Budd “hasn’t made a final decision.”
“He’s looking really hard at it. It’s fair to say he’s leaning towards it,” he said.
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