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Ayotte: I will not vote for Trump

October 08. 2016 11:41AM

MANCHESTER — The unexpected decision of Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, to drop her support of Donald Trump for President over his lewd comments regarding women touched off a firestorm of reaction across the political spectrum.

New Hampshire Republican leaders stood behind her, Democrats condemned her and some of Trump’s devoted supporters accused her of selling out to curry favor with the liberal media.

One thing is certain: this act is unprecedented in recent, New Hampshire political history.

“Here we go again, yet another example of how this election cycle has been unlike any other in our memory,” said Greg Moore, a veteran Republican political strategist.

The one-term, Nashua Republican Ayotte lit the match, issuing a statement Saturday morning to confirm that she was ending months of steadfast support for Trump’s candidacy.

“I wanted to be able to support my party’s nominee, chosen by the people, because I feel strongly that we need a change in direction for our country,” Ayotte explained.

“However, I’m a mom and an American first, and I cannot and will not support a candidate for President who brags about degrading and assaulting women. I will not be voting for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton and instead will be writing in Governor Pence for President on Election Day.”

In less than an hour, Ayotte’s Senate opponent, Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, said Ayotte’s decision was “far too little and far too late.”

“For months, Kelly Ayotte stood by Trump as he demeaned women, minorities, people with disabilities, Gold Star families, and was deemed a danger to our national security, even going so far as saying he should ‘absolutely’ be a role model for children,” Hassan said.

“What Kelly Ayotte doesn’t seem to understand is the chance to show courage has long passed, and her hollow words today reveal as much about her own character as they do Donald Trump’s. Her words are far too little and far too late.”

Trying to keep the pressure on, Hassan’s campaign released a new, 30-second TV ad with the 2005 video footage of Trump bragging about what he can get away with, juxtaposing that with Ayotte’s recent praise of Trump.

This decision by Ayotte was unexpected since the previous day, Ayotte seemed to treat this explosive controversy just as she had every other edgy or objectionable comment Trump had made before this.

She said Trump’s comments about his failed try to bed a married woman “inappropriate and offensive.”

And a day earlier, Hassan had called for Ayotte to drop her support for Trump, which she did.

But now Democratic leaders maintain Ayotte’s move is just a cynical, political ploy to try and rescue a struggling, re-election campaign.

“The question is whether Trump’s lewd comments were for Ayotte the last straw or if she’s simply grasping at straws,” said State Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Woodburn of Dalton.

New Hampshire House Speaker Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, posted on his Facebook page that he’s considering support for a third party candidate in light of Trump’s comments.

“All of that is true, but there is a point at which if we support a person who is so vile because the other option is worse, we have to ask ourselves what we have become,” Jasper wrote.

“I have reached that point and I don’t have an answer, but my heart is broken. Is it really true that our only real choice is between disgusting and evil? It may be that our best option is to vote for a third party candidate so that the House of Representatives can pick a decent person to be President. I am not there yet and I am sorry that I even have to think that way.”

Libertarian Party nominees Gary Johnson and Bill Weld, as former GOP governors, made a special appeal Saturday for other Republicans to follow Ayotte’s lead.

“Today, as we watch Republicans across the nation struggle with the disclosure of Donald Trump’s indefensible and embarrassing words, and the attitude toward women displayed by those words, we respect the difficult spot those Republicans are in. It can’t be easy,” Johnson and Weld said in a joint statement.

“At the same time, character and trust are important. It shouldn’t matter whether a microphone is turned on or not. The conversation we have all now heard isn’t any more appropriate in a locker room than it is on national TV. America deserves better. Women certainly deserve better. And Republicans deserve better.”

Republican State Chairman Jennifer Horn of Nashua was in an unenviable position as the head of the state GOP with its most powerful political leader having bailed on the presidential nominee.

“However, I remain deeply concerned about Mr. Trump’s erratic behavior, his outrageous comments and his ability to serve as our commander in chief. As the mother of five children, including an active duty United States Marine, I understand and respect Senator Ayotte’s decision to write in Governor Mike Pence for president on Election Day,” Horn said.

“Voters have learned a great deal more about both candidates since the close of the primary process. This has been a unique election. There will be no repercussions from the party directed at those who choose not to support Donald Trump.”

This move means Ayotte can’t count on backing from the GOP’s coordinated campaign since its top goal is to elect Trump.

“She’s running her own campaign now for better or for worse,” Moore said.

GOP political consultant Ryan Williams, who worked on Mitt Romney’s two presidential campaigns, said Ayotte has built a field organization that’s much more robust than the one Trump’s forces have put together here.

“She has built her own free-standing infrastructure even before this announcement. She is in a pretty good position already; it certainly is a logistical challenge but one that her campaign can ably handle,” Williams said.

Ayotte’s move may cost her some votes among Trump’s most devoted followers, said State Rep. Al Baldasaro, a national leader in Trump’s veteran outreach campaign.

“Either you are a team player or not. She’s married to a military guy. and she knows how they can talk as well when they are alone together,” Baldasaro began.

“A write-in vote for Pence? Who is she trying to kid? That’s a good sound bite but it hurts the party. I like Kelly Ayotte but she needs to stop trying to kowtow to the liberal media. Trump apologized, so let’s move on.”

Despite Ayotte’s announcement, Trump is keeping New Hampshire in the top tier of swing states. Trump scheduled yet another campaign stop here next Saturday, this one a rally at the Toyota of Portsmouth dealership on the Seacoast.

Ayotte wasn’t the only prominent Republican Saturday jumping ship.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona said he will write in another candidate. South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the number three-ranking Republican, dropped his support of Trump as did Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, Alaska Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski and the governors of Alabama and Utah.

Democrats maintain Ayotte’s behavior this week shows an incumbent on the run: starting the week by declaring Trump to be a “role model” for children only to reverse herself hours later and then by week’s end saying she can’t vote for him.

“This is not a surprise. We in New Hampshire have had a front row seat to Trump’s unbalanced behavior, so that begs the question is this a personal or political judgment,” Woodburn said.

GOP strategists maintain Ayotte’s move will allow her to go on the offensive against Hassan rather than spend every day defending Trump’s actions.

Further, they say it reinforces her core message as a bipartisan senator whose support can’t be bought.

“If you look at the dynamics of the race, Kelly has wanted to control the landscape and it was harder for her to do being connected with the ticket,” Moore said.

“Now doesn’t Hassan even more have to show some independence from Hillary Clinton?”

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