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Tim Scott Floats Potential Running Mates as He Seeks Traction in New Hampshire

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Despite lagging in the polls since he launched his presidential bid four months ago, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott sounded almost like a frontrunner on Wednesday when asked at a New Hampshire campaign stop who might be on his shortlist for running mates.

“Oh boy,” someone in the audience said through chuckles as the question hung in the air. “Oh boy,” Scott echoed, before rattling off some options: Trey Gowdy, a TV pundit and fellow South Carolinian who served in the House until 2019; John Ratcliffe, a former Texas congressman who was Director of National Intelligence for less than a year during the Trump administration; New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu; and Trump-era Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Scott described the contenders as aligning with his desire to lead "a team anchored in conservatism that wants to make sure that America remains the city on the hill." But with Scott polling around fifth place in national polls and in-state surveys, even some of his supporters are skeptical his campaign will ever need that list.

Read more: How Tim Scott Plans to Stand Out in a GOP That 'Craves Catastrophe'

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Scott addressed about 50 people at Politics & Eggs, a series that has become a must-visit stop in the Granite State on the presidential campaign trail. He spent much of the event offering subtle contrasts to his own positions and those of the race’s clear frontrunner, Donald Trump, without ever mentioning the former President by name. He reiterated his support for a 15-week federal limit on abortion—an issue Trump has recently suggested conservatives should compromise on—while acknowledging the political difficulties of passing one. 

“I believe that will take my entire first presidency, my first four years, to even get that accomplished,” he said. “We have to win the hearts and minds of the American people. The good news is about 72%, nearly three out of four Americans, agree with a 15-week limit. To get that through Congress, however, it would take the entire four years, likely.”

Scott’s abortion stance made his inclusion of Sununu on his VP shortlist even more striking, as the vocally anti-Trump governor is widely viewed within his party as a moderate on abortion. At a bakery up the road, reporters cornered Scott about his shortlist as he waited for a breakfast sandwich. He said that he had talked to Sununu before, but not about the possibility of the governor running for Vice President. 

Earlier in the morning, Scott tried to clarify his position on labor unions, after seeming to deride striking United Auto Workers earlier in the week by praising President Ronald Reagan’s decision to  fire striking federal workers. Asked about that comment Wednesday, Scott redirected his criticism towards President Joe Biden. 

“I brought up the Ronald Reagan years because I do think that we need to have, front and center, the example of a president who stands strong and today's president, who stands weak, so weak that he's using your—there's no such thing as a federal dollar, they're all your dollars, our dollars, as citizens—taking $86 billion dollars out of our collective pockets, to use that to shore up the unions, in my opinion, is wrong,” he said.  

Scott is one of roughly six Republicans expected to make the stage for next week’s second presidential debate. Asked by TIME what he made of Trump’s decision to skip the debate to speak to the striking autoworkers, Scott said, “I think him not being on the stage is a mistake, but in the end, I'll use that extra time and do the best we can to tell people why we know America can do for anyone what she’s done for me.” 

State Senator Regina Birdsell, who attended Politics & Eggs because it was in her district and because her campaign manager is working for Scott, says Scott is her second choice for the GOP nomination after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. 

“He's a class act,” Birdsell says of Scott. “He's just a nice person. And for me, he's got the right values.”

But being known as the nice guy won’t be enough to tear voters away from the candidates currently at the front of the pack. Asked what voters are saying about Scott, Birdsell replies, “Not much right now. I think it's a little bit early. But I think people like him a lot.”

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Write to Mini Racker/Windham, NH at mini.racker@time.com