New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte said she “misspoke” earlier Monday night when she said she would “absolutely” point to Donald Trump as a role model for children.
“I misspoke tonight,” Ayotte wrote in a statement. “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.”
The initial comment by Ayotte came during a televised Senate debate at the New England College and co-sponsored by the Concord Monitor against Gov. Maggie Hassan, the two-term Democrat mounting a competitive bid to unseat her.
At the event the first-term Republican senator was asked if she would describe the Republican nominee as a role model and whether she would tell children to “be like Donald Trump.” A sputtering Ayotte struggled to respond, before affirming that she would.
“I think that certainly there are many role models that we have and I believe he can serve as president, and so absolutely I would do that,” she said awkwardly.
Pressed to answer why she would tell children to emulate his behavior but won’t endorse his candidacy, Ayotte cited lingering disputes between the two candidates and sought to cast her opponent, Hassan, as tied to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
“I’ve had some disagreements with him and I’ve been quite clear about those disagreements,” she said. “This is an area where Governor Hassan has been lockstep with Secretary Clinton. I haven’t heard major disagreements that she’s had with Secretary Clinton, so who’s going to stand up on behalf of the people of New Hampshire?”
Ayotte has struggled to strike a balance between siding with the Republican Party’s nominee and distancing herself from Trump’s policies and rhetoric, telling CNN in August that while she planned to vote for his ticket, she would not openly endorse his campaign.
For his part, Trump hailed Ayotte as a “rising star” of the GOP while endorsing her during an August press conference where he also backed reelection bids by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. John McCain in a push for party unity.