Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) has a tortured relationship with her party’s presidential nominee. Locked in a tight race with Gov. Maggie Hassan (D), Ayotte has vowed to vote for Donald Trump, despite steadfastly avoiding saying anything good about him.
Until Monday night. During a debate against Hassan, Ayotte was asked whether she thinks Trump is a role model for children. Struggling for an answer, she said: “I think that certainly, there are many role models that we have, and I believe he can serve as president and so absolutely.”
Though she went on to say she’d had unspecified “disagreements” with Trump, Ayotte’s characterization of Trump as a role model was the big talker coming out of the debate.
Kelly Ayotte says "Donald Trump is absolutely a role model for kids." She's right, kids don't pay taxes either.
— Tea Pain (@TeaPainUSA) October 4, 2016
Trump just spent a week fat-shaming a woman and bragging about not paying taxes; Kelly Ayotte calls him a role model pic.twitter.com/jrhwlo9bBe
— Jamison Foser (@jamisonfoser) October 3, 2016
Before the night was through, Ayotte released a statement walking it back.
My statement on tonight's debate: pic.twitter.com/BxNE0NQn6m
— Kelly Ayotte (@KellyAyotte) October 4, 2016
Ayotte, who has criticized Trump’s Muslim ban proposal and attacks on the family of Khizr Khan, has tried to make a distinction between her plan to vote for Trump and “endorsing” him.
“Everyone gets a vote, I do too,” she said on CNN in August. “And an endorsement is when you are campaigning with someone.”
But she indicated she still might change her mind.
“With any candidate, I always reserve the right to re-evaluate my position,” she said during the CNN interview. “My position at this moment is I’m going to be voting for him.”
Trump has indicated that the lack of enthusiasm Ayotte feels toward him is reciprocated. During an interview with the Washington Post in August, Trump lamented that Ayotte hadn’t endorsed him and questioned whether “weak people” like her “should be representing us.” But he changed his tune during a subsequent rally where he characterized her as “a rising star [who] will continue to represent the great people of New Hampshire so very well for a long, long time.”
It remains unclear whether Trump’s prophecy will come true, however. Recent polling in the state indicates Ayotte’s race with Hassan is basically a dead heat.