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Tim Scott lost his own presidential bid. But he's gotten Donald Trump's attention for vice president

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The biggest winner of the Republican primary season so far, besides Donald Trump, might be Tim Scott.

The South Carolina senator failed in his own bid for president. But his enthusiastic campaigning for the former president has been generating buzz about Scott's prospects as Trump's potential pick for a running mate.

Scott played a starring role in his home state's Feb. 24 primary election, hyping the crowd about Trump at rallies and in interviews. During a Fox News town hall, Trump, who rarely likes to share the spotlight, taped a segment in which he and Scott appeared together on stage in matching red ties, a visual that made them look like they were already a ticket.

“A lot of people are talking about that gentleman right over there,” Trump told the audience earlier in the program when asked who was on his vice presidential shortlist, pointing to Scott, who was sitting in the front row, smiling wide.

Trump's march to the Republican nomination has brought forward a slew of vice presidential hopefuls. Some have been openly jockeying for the spot for more than a year now, flying themselves to Trump’s rallies and campaigning for him across early-voting states. If Trump wins the White House, he will be constitutionally ineligible to run again, making his vice president a nearly automatic front-runner in 2028.

But any potential contender to join Trump must consider the political fate of his last running mate, former Vice President Mike Pence. He became a pariah among many Trump supporters for refusing to go along with Trump's debunked voter fraud theories and for trying to stop the certification of the 2020 election that Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden.

Scott, 58, has refused to talk about whether he would have acted differently during the Jan. 6 insurrection and sidestepped questions about the vice president's role in elections. Scott voted in favor of certifying the 2020 results and said during a presidential debate last year that Pence had done the right thing.

“The one thing we know about the future is that the former president, fortunately, he’ll be successful in 2024, he won’t be facing that situation again,” he said in a February television interview.

Trump has offered mixed public signals about his search for a running mate as he closes in on the Republican nomination, saying at one point that he had already made his choice, only to later walk that back. In an interview Tuesday with Michigan’s WJR-AM radio, Trump said he was in “no rush” to make an announcement. He added: "I want to keep you guessing.”

Aides who once insisted it was too early to discuss the role declined to comment this past week. A spokesman pointed to Trump's public comments.

Beyond Scott, Trump met Monday with South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, whom he has said is on his shortlist, at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida. She told The Dakota Scout that the two had had “a good, long conversation” in which they had talked “a little bit about 2024.”

Noem has told fellow Republicans that she may be chosen as vice president, according to two people familiar with the comments who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private conversations.

The efforts have also been playing out publicly.

This year's main stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington had the feel of a reality TV-style open audition. Among them were New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, who labeled her upstate congressional district “Trump and Elise Country," and Ohio's JD Vance, who has become one of Trump's top allies in the Senate. Also appearing were former Trump rival Vivek Ramaswamy, who maintains strong support with the “Make America Great Again" base, Florida Rep. Byron Donalds, whom Trump has hailed as “a superstar with a tremendous future," and Arizona Senate candidate Kari Lake.

Noem and Ramaswamy tied for first in CPAC’s annual straw poll, an unscientific survey that nonetheless offers a gauge of the leanings of the party's activist base. ( Former Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Stefanik and Scott made up a second tier.)

Others sometimes mentioned as potential picks include Ben Carson, Trump’s former housing secretary; North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who endorsed Trump after ending his own bid for the nomination; Trump's former press secretary, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders; and Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.

Aides and allies have said Trump, who demands loyalty from those who work for him, is looking for someone who can serve as effective cheerleader and surrogate, but also someone who won’t overshadow him in the role. While Trump has expressed interest in choosing a woman, his campaign is also trying to attract more minority voters, particularly Black and Hispanic men.

Scott is the Senate's only Black Republican and speaks often about his hardscrabble roots. He was raised by a single mother who worked long hours as a nurse’s assistant to provide for him and his brother after her divorce from their father.

Describing himself as a “born-again believer,” Scott often quotes Scripture at campaign events, weaving his reliance on spiritual guidance into his stump speech.

People familiar with their relationship say Trump and Scott have developed a strong rapport. The two spent extensive time together on the road in recent weeks and have developed what South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has been pushing Trump to pick Scott, recently described as good “chemistry.”

Scott plans to continue to campaign on Trump’s behalf beyond South Carolina, including appearances on Fox News Channel, where he is a frequent guest.

“I want to do what’s really best for the country,” he said when asked by The Wall Street Journal whether he was interested in serving as Trump's vice president.

Scott's decision to endorse Trump came at a crucial moment — before the New Hampshire primary in January — and was a major blow to Trump rival Nikki Haley, who had been counting on the state to try to halt Trump's march to the nomination.

At one rally, Trump joked that Scott “must really hate” Haley to choose the former president him over the onetime U.N. ambassador who as South Carolina governor had selected Scott for an open Senate seat.

Scott came to the microphone unprompted and said, “I just love you!”

Scott ran a lackluster White House campaign despite entering the race with a massive war chest and an optimistic message. The vice presidential debate is arguably a candidate’s most important campaign duty and Scott received poor reviews for his performances in the GOP matchups, seeming to disappear from the stage.

But the senator has been far more animated in the surrogate role — a fact Trump has pointed out again and again.

“He has been much better for me than he was for himself. I watched his campaign and he doesn’t like talking about himself. But boy does he talk about Trump," he said at the Fox town hall.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said he had listened to Trump "talk about how great Tim Scott is.”

“You’ve probably heard him say he makes a better candidate for the president than he does by himself. But that’s Tim Scott’s nature. He doesn’t like to boast or brag or put himself out. He just likes to talk about others and the issues and he’s very good at it," McMaster said.

Trump's public affinity for Scott hasn't gone away after the South Carolina primary.

Appearing Thursday on Fox News during a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border, Trump was asked by host Sean Hannity if he would consider Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for vice president. He turned to Abbott, who was next to him, and praised him as a “spectacular” man who offered an endorsement months ago.

Then, he shifted to talking about Scott.

“He’s a very good man,” he said. “For me, he’s unbelievable.”