Donald Trump has hinted he could make Kristi Noem, the South Dakota governor, his running mate if he wins the Republican presidential nomination next year.
The former US president said he liked the idea of putting a woman on the ticket alongside him and singled out Ms Noem for praise.
The 51-year-old has become a rising Republican star after embracing the party’s culture wars. In Mr Trump’s own words, she is a “warrior for American values”.
She made headlines with a speech at the National Rifle Convention earlier this year in which she revealed her two-year-old granddaughter had multiple guns.
“I wanna reassure you, she already has a shotgun and she already has a rifle and she’s got a little pony named Sparkles too. So the girl is set up,” she said.
Her anti-lockdown stance during the pandemic first won her the attention of the Republican base, along with her fealty to Mr Trump.
She handed Mr Trump a replica of Mount Rushmore with his face included on the monument while he was president in 2020.
A telegenic mother of three, Ms Noem has been adept at cultivating her image as a down-to-earth conservative in contrast with Washington elites, using social media to share images of herself shooting, riding and spending time with her children.
However, Ms Noem has made no secret of her ambitions for higher office. She told the conservative network Newsmax she would agree to be Mr Trump’s running mate “in a heartbeat”.
Republican strategists believe she could set her sights even higher in 2028.
In an interview with NBC on Sunday, Mr Trump, the Republican frontrunner, was asked whether he was inclined towards selecting a female vice presidential candidate.
“I like the concept but we’re going to pick the best person. But I do like the concept, yes,” he replied.
He went on to gush about Ms Noem, whom he called “a great governor”.
He noted: “She gave me a very full-throated endorsement, a beautiful endorsement actually”.
“Certainly she’d be one of the people I’d consider, or for something else maybe,” he added.
One potential snag is persistent rumours over her close relationship with Corey Lewandowski, 49, Mr Trump’s former campaign manager.
Last week, Mail Online reported on claims the married governor, who often champions family values, had been involved in a years-long affair with Mr Lewandowski, who is also married.
Neither denied the affair when approached by the Mail. However, Ms Noem’s representative dismissed the stories as a “predictable” media attack.
The spokesman said: “As Governor Noem said during [her] endorsement speech: ‘Yes, I will be attacked for speaking the truth to all of you tonight. Yes, I expect Joe Biden, these candidates, their political operatives, and the media will perpetuate ugly, hateful misinformation in an attempt to destroy me and my family because of my opinions’.”
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