October 10, 2016 - 11:30 PM
MANCHESTER, N.H. - U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte's decision to drop her support for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is getting a mixed response from New Hampshire voters, but even some who disagree with her are still backing her re-election efforts.
Republicans in Congress are increasingly pulling their support from Trump or have called on him to drop out since the release on Friday of a 2005 video in which he is heard making lewd, sexually charged remarks about women. In Sunday night's town hall-style debate against Hillary Clinton, Trump described the recording as "locker room talk."
Citing concern for her daughter, Ayotte characterized Trump's comments as advocating sexual assault and said she will write in vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence instead.
It is the latest step in Ayotte's evolving attitude toward Trump. Last summer, she said she backed him but was careful to define her position as "support but not endorse." In a debate last week with her opponent, Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, she said she "absolutely" would consider him a role model for children, then hours later said she "misspoke" and that she would not want her children to aspire to be like either presidential candidate.
Some of the more than 2,000 people who commented on Ayotte's Facebook page over the weekend praised her as courageous for dropping her support of Trump, while others criticized her decision, calling her a traitor and saying she had lost their votes.
Rushad Thomas has considered himself a "Never Trumper" since the moment the Republican presidential hopeful announced his candidacy. Sixteen months later, he is happy Ayotte has come around to his view.
"I really like Sen. Ayotte a lot. I've given her money, I voted for her in the primary. But when she gave that sort of weasel answer originally saying she'd support the nominee but not endorse him, I was really disappointed by that," said Thomas, 26, of Lebanon. "I was still going to vote for her, but I would have been reluctant to do so. Now, I can vote for her with a clear conscience."
Wade Wagner said he believes Ayotte's vote for Pence amounts to support for Clinton, but he still plans to stand behind her.
"Saying you're going to write in the vice-presidential candidate — I was taken aback," said Wagner, a 46-year-old independent from Hudson. "It was very unlike her. But when it comes down to it, she votes the way I believe, and I'll support her until the cows come home."
Another independent, John Sterling, was less complimentary of Ayotte, saying her decision was a bad idea, but in the end it would not cost her his vote.
"It doesn't change my support for her because who's the alternative," said Sterling, 61. "The Republican Party needs solidarity."
Hassan's campaign on Monday released a web ad accusing Ayotte of "saying anything to protect herself" and questioning why it took her so long to denounce Trump. And members of the progressive advocacy group People For the American Way stood outside Ayotte's Manchester office protesting Ayotte, Trump and Pence.
Karl Stamm, of Hudson, holding a sign that read "Pence= as bad as Trump," described himself as a former Republican turned Democrat. He said he once had high hopes for Ayotte, but now views her as a "political social climber" who lacks conviction.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016