It's a fact that Ayotte has struggled with all year, with the GOP incumbent repeatedly saying she sees a "big distinction" between publicly announcing her intention to vote for Trump and endorsing her party's controversial nominee. Two weeks ago, Ayotte was asked whether or not she believes Trump is fit to be Commander in Chief, and she wouldn't give a straight answer.This awkwardness reached a new level last night when Ayotte debated her Democratic rival, Gov. Maggie Hassan (D), and one of the moderators asked the Republican senator whether she'd point to Donald Trump "as a role model" for children. Ayotte responded:
"I think that, uh, certainly there are many role models that we have and, um, I believe that he can serve as president and so absolutely I would do that."
For Ayotte to argue, live and on camera, that she would "absolutely" point to Trump as someone children should try to emulate was, at a minimum, deeply strange.
And with that in mind, it didn't come as too big of a surprise when Ayotte's campaign announced after the televised debate that the senator has changed her mind.
"I misspoke tonight," Ayotte said in a written statement issued after the event. "While I would hope all of our children would aspire to be president, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton have set a good example, and I wouldn't hold up either of them as role models for my kids."
Whether or not this will help Ayotte remains to be seen. "Misspeaking" is a bit of a tough sell -- it's not like this was a verbal slip-up in which she said "Iraq" when she meant "Iran." She heard the question, thought about it, and told voters what she was thinking.
The prompt walkback means the Republican senator won't face days of questions about why she sees Trump as a role model for children, but the debate footage will likely be played over and over again for New Hampshire voters, and it's a safe bet Democratic ads are already in the works.
Making matters even more complicated for the GOP in general, Ayotte's difficulty with this all but guarantees other Republicans in competitive races will soon face the identical question, putting them in an awkward position, too.
Finally, even if we accept Ayotte's second statement at face value, let's not overlook the oddity of the circumstances: a sitting Republican senator wants her party's national nominee to win the presidency, but she refuses to endorse him and she doesn't want kids to act like him.
It's yet another reminder that this is a presidential election like no other.