Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said she thinks Republican nominee Donald Trump is a good role model for kids, but she still won’t endorse him for president.
The topic of whether young Americans should look up to Trump came up during a debate Monday between Ayotte and her opponent for the U.S. Senate, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D).
“I think that certainly there are many role models that we have,” Ayotte answered awkwardly. “I believe he can serve as president, so absolutely, I would” say he’s a role model.
Ayotte’s answer comes as Trump remains steeped in controversy over comments he’s made about women over the years, including contestants on his NBC show “The Apprentice,” former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, and his daughter, Ivanka Trump.
When pressed why she won’t endorse Trump’s candidacy, Ayotte said she’s “had disagreements” with the nominee.
“I’ve been quite clear about those disagreements, and this is an area where, Governor Hassan has been lockstep with Secretary [Hillary] 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 refused to formally endorse Trump, though she has said she will vote for him in November.
“I will take on my own party,” Ayotte told CNN in August. “I really believe that this is a big issue in this race ― that I am the one candidate that will stand up to whomever is in the White House to do good things when we can work together ― also when it’s wrong to stand up to them.”
Trump has criticized Ayotte for not supporting his candidacy.
“We need loyal people in this country. We need fighters in this country. We don’t need weak people. We have enough of them. We need fighters in this country. But Kelly Ayotte has given me zero support, and I’m doing great in New Hampshire,” Trump said in August.
Watch Monday’s exchange above.
UPDATE: 11 p.m. ― Ayotte issued a statement saying she “misspoke” during the debate and considers neither Trump nor Clinton good role models:
I misspoke tonight. 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.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.