WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - Mrs Lara Trump, the President's daughter-in-law who emerged during the 2020 presidential campaign as a defender of President Donald Trump's basest political instincts, is now eyeing a political future of her own in her home state of North Carolina.
As Mr Trump attempts to subvert the election to remain in power, Mrs Trump, three allies said, has been telling associates she is considering a run for Senate in 2022, in what is expected to be a competitive race for the first open Senate seat in a very swingy swing state in a generation.
Senator Richard Burr, an unobtrusive Republican legislator who was thrust into the spotlight as chair of a committee investigating Mr Trump's ties to Russia, has said he would retire at the end of his term.
Despite expanded turnout in rural areas, Mr Trump won North Carolina by a smaller margin than he did four years ago, just 1.3 percentage points, a sign that overall the state is trending blue and that the race for the Senate seat will be tightly contested by both parties in the first post-Trump election.
But not, perhaps, an entirely post-Trump election, if Mrs Trump proceeds.
Mrs Trump, 38, a former personal trainer and television producer for Inside Edition, wed Mr Eric Trump at the family's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida in 2014 and worked as a senior adviser on the 2020 Trump campaign.
Now, the daughter-in-law whom Mr Trump had often joked to donors that he "couldn't pick out of a line-up" is floating herself as the first test of the enduring power of the Trump name.
"She's very charismatic, she understands retail politics well, and has a natural instinct for politics," said Ms Mercedes Schlapp, a Trump campaign adviser who travelled the country as a surrogate alongside Mrs Trump. "In North Carolina, in particular, she's a household name and people know her. She worked really hard on the campaign and was very involved in a lot of decisions throughout."
Mrs Trump declined to comment about her plans.
Much of the speculation about who might inherit the Trump mantle has focused on his eldest children, who have cultivated their own niche followings. Mr Donald Trump Jr, the eldest son, has the deepest connection with the online disinformation system that has fuelled support for his father as well as with the Trump base that supports protecting the Second Amendment.
Ms Ivanka Trump, the eldest daughter and a White House official who focused on workforce development, was deployed on the campaign trail to make her father more palatable to suburban women who were turned off by his tone and his tweets.
She generally steered clear of repeating his ad hominem attacks on President-elect Joe Biden, or his son Hunter, or casting doubt on the integrity of the election.
But Ms Trump, people familiar with her plans said, is still deciding on whether to settle her family in New Jersey or Florida, and has no immediate intention to pursue elected office herself.
Mr Donald Trump Jr, meanwhile, despite his talent for channelling his father's id, may choose to forgo a run for office all together.
Mr Eric Trump, the most low profile of the Trump siblings, has never cultivated a political spotlight, leaving the way clear for his wife.
Mr Eric and Mrs Lara Trump currently live in Westchester, New York, with their two young children - their daughter, Carolina, is named after the state Mrs Trump is now eyeing. It's not apparent that simply having the family backing would empty, or even diminish, the field in what is expected to be one of the most targeted seats in the nation where Republican candidates with experience in the state are already lining up.
There's Representative Mark Walker, a Mr Trump ally whom Mr Donald Trump has encouraged to run for Mr Burr's seat, and indicated he would support.
There's Mr Pat McCrory, the former governor, who has said he is eyeing the seat. Mr Tim Moore, the North Carolina speaker of the House, is said to be in the mix. And Mr Dan Forest, who just lost a race for governor against the Democratic incumbent Roy Cooper, is expected to be in the field.
And then there is another contender from Mr Trump's inner circle, at least as it stands at the moment: Mr Mark Meadows, the former North Carolina representative and White House chief of staff, is widely expected to move back home and run for the seat as well. Aides to Mr Meadows declined to comment about his political future.
Mrs Trump, who spoke at the Republican National Convention, made many campaign stops in North Carolina this year. On the trail, she has been willing to go where surrogates like Ms Trump, seeking to soften the President, have not.
Speaking on behalf of her father-in-law in her hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina, she echoed Mr Trump's baseless attempts to undermine confidence in the election results.
She said the system was "ripe with fraud", and claimed that universal vote by mail "is not a good system, it's never been tested".
On CNN in October, she accused Mr Biden of suffering from a severe "cognitive decline" and batted away questions about Mr Trump encouraging violence on Michigan's Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who the FBI recently said had been targeted by a kidnapping plot.
Mrs Trump chalked up her father-in-law's behaviour as an example of someone simply "having fun at a Trump rally".
Since election day, she has actively elevated conspiracy theories online about election-equipment maker Dominion Voting Systems Inc, which Mr Trump has claimed, with no evidence, switched his votes to Mr Biden's column.
A former Trump aide, Ms Omarosa Manigault Newman, claimed in a 2018 memoir that Mrs Trump had offered her a US$15,000 (S$20,150) a month contract in exchange for silence about her time in the White House, and subsequently released a secret recording that Ms Manigault Newman said supported that claim.