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Ayotte 'intends to support' GOP nominee

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 29. 2016 8:26PM
As she was in 2008 with Republican nominee John McCain, Sen. Kelly Ayotte was on board with 2012 nominee Mitt Romney for campaign stops around the state. (FILE/REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi)

With Donald Trump’s big lead putting the Republican establishment in turmoil, GOP candidates in major state races have difficult decisions to make.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who faces a high-profile challenge from Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, condemned Trump’s response after he was endorsed by white supremacist David Duke.

“There’s no place in our society for racism and bigotry, and I found Mr. Trump’s response to David Duke and the KKK disgusting and offensive,” Ayotte said Monday.

Trump continues to be a magnet for controversy as he heads into today’s Super Tuesday primary contests as the GOP frontrunner.

On Sunday, the real estate mogul declined to condemn Duke and the Ku Klux Klan three times during an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. Trump maintained that he did not clearly hear the question due to a bad ear piece. He pointed out that he had previously disavowed Duke.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, two of Trump’s remaining GOP presidential rivals, denounced Trump over the comments. Rubio claims it shows that Trump is unelectable.

Rubio jumped on the #NeverTrump hashtag movement on Twitter over the weekend.

“Donald Trump is a con artist and he cannot be our nominee,” Rubio tweeted.

U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., also vented on Twitter: “If Trump becomes the Republican nominee my expectation is that I’ll look for some 3rd candidate — a conservative option, a Constitutionalist.”

Do not count on Ayotte, a first-term Republican who faces a challenge from two-term Gov. Maggie Hassan joining the #NeverTrump camp.

“Senator Ayotte intends to support the Republican nominee, however she would like to see how the process plays out,” said Liz Johnson, an Ayotte spokeswoman.

Impact on GOP ballot

Trump’s big lead in the race has political observers trying to take a measure of his impact, if he wins the nomination, on the GOP ballot in November.

Even on Super Tuesday, it’s early to gauge what the political environment will be in the fall, said David Carney, a veteran political consultant and former White House political director for President George H.W. Bush.

“We just don’t know the dynamics,” he said. “I don’t think it’s over, even if he does well (on Super Tuesday).”

Carney said Trump’s failure to repudiate Duke on CNN, even as he disavowed Duke before and after that cable show, could hurt him in the long run.

Jennifer Horn, chairman of the Republican State Committee, wrote a Facebook post that indirectly mentioned the KKK controversy.

“To be very clear,” Horn wrote, “there is no place in the party of Lincoln, or in our great nation, for the hateful bigotry of the KKK.”

Some polling suggests that Trump does bring new voters into the mix, said Carney. He was quick to add, “Will that continue if he continues down Crazy Train Lane?”

Party unity

Whether Trump captures the nomination, or another candidate does, Republicans will have to dig deep and work on party unity, said Renee Plummer, a GOP activist and civic leader from Portsmouth.

Plummer, who had endorsed Chris Christie, said she was initially shocked that the New Jersey governor endorsed Trump. Now, however, she is hopeful that Christie will “have a seat at the table,” and provide Trump with insight or advice.

“I’m going over to the Trump side because Christie is there,” she said.

Former New Hampshire GOP chairman Wayne MacDonald, who was state chairman for Christie, does not plan to endorse another presidential candidate at this point. He plans to support the party’s nominee.

MacDonald said that if the nominee is Trump, the integrity of the nominating process and his choice of running mate will be important in bringing the party, and the country, together. For now, McDonald said he’s taking a step back as the process unfolds.

“This is a year that has defied some of the old rules of politics,” he said. “It’s a little early to cast doom and gloom.”

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