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March 5, 2021, 3:27 p.m. EST

Trump seen readying run — Lara Trump, that is, in North Carolina

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Associated Press

RALEIGH, North Carolina (AP) — A Trump may be on the ballot next year — but not Donald Trump.

The former president’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, is eyeing the North Carolina Senate seat being vacated by Republican Richard Burr. While many in the state are skeptical she will move forward, an entrance into the race would set up a crucial test of whether Donald Trump’s popularity among Republicans, which remains massive more than a month after leaving office, can translate to others.

The answer to that question has implications that extend far beyond Lara Trump’s political future. If Donald Trump can prove that he can help other Republicans win office, his self-appointed status as leader of the party would be validated. Losses, however, would remind Republicans of his vulnerabilities.

For now, Republicans say the only thing that is certain is that Lara Trump would easily dispatch rivals in a GOP primary.

“If Lara were to get in the race, I think she would command widespread and immediate attention across the state,” said Michael Whatley, chairman of the North Carolina GOP, who has said his goal going forward is “making sure that we keep all of the Trump voters that came in during the last election and convert them into reliable Republican voters.”

Donald Trump fancies himself as a kingmaker in GOP politics, but his record is mixed. Under his leadership, Republicans lost control of the House in 2018. When he was on the ballot again last year, Republicans mounted a strong performance in congressional races, coming much closer than expected to retaking the House.

But the GOP lost two Georgia Senate seats — and the majority — in January despite a last minute campaign push from Trump.

The 38-year-old Lara Trump is married to the former president’s son, Eric. A former television producer, she has never held public office and declined to comment for this story.

While many in North Carolina privately doubt Lara Trump will ultimately seek the Senate seat, she’s being encouraged by South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham , a Trump ally who has warned the party against abandoning the former president and appealed to him to keep “this MAGA movement” activated.

Also see: Trump supporters heckle and menace Sen. Lindsey Graham at Reagan National after Graham’s since-abandoned criticism of Trump’s Jan. 6 role

From the archives (December 2018): Eric Trump slams Kellyanne Conway’s husband for showing ‘utter disrespect’

She is still considering a run for the Senate seat, according to two people who have spoken with her recently and requested anonymity to discuss private conversations.

While she would need to move her young family to the state, the Wilmington, N.C., native, is deeply familiar with the state and its voters after campaigning there extensively in 2016 and 2020, according to one of the people. She was a key surrogate for her father-in-law and named her second child Carolina.

She also likes the idea of being the next Trump to run for something, even as a test to her father-in-law mounting a comeback in 2024, the other said. The former president’s daughter, Ivanka, recently said she wouldn’t challenge Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio and his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., is believed to be uninterested in seeking office himself.

For Trump loyalists, there would be a certain satisfaction in a family member succeeding Burr, who was one of just seven Senate Republicans who voted to convict the former president in an impeachment trial for inciting the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Key Words (January 2019): Lara Trump to those struggling through shutdown: This is much bigger than you

“Stay tuned,” she said last week in an interview on Fox News Channel, adding that she was keeping the option “open.”

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