The Slatest

This Is “Absolutely” a Terrible Morning for Kelly Ayotte

Sen. Kelly Ayotte wonders if it’s time to vote yet.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Donald Trump hasn’t been quite the dead weight around the neck of Republican Senate candidates this year that some thought he would be. Those Republican voters who find themselves disgusted with Trump will still loyally split their ticket to save control of Congress, and Hillary Clinton’s unpopularity doesn’t give Democrats much of a boost. Republican Senate candidates in tight re-election races have all walked this tortuous “I support the nominee, but don’t endorse Donald Trump” line, and for the most part made it work for them without any egregious gaffes.

And then Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s Monday night happened.

The New Hampshire race is deadlocked, and Ayotte’s fortunes appear to rise and fall with Trump’s interest in veering egregiously off script on any given morning. At Ayotte’s debate on Monday with her opponent, Gov. Maggie Hassan, the senator was asked whether she would point to Donald Trump as a role model for children.

“Well, I think that certainly, there are many role models that we have,” Ayotte began, hesitantly. “I believe he can serve as president, and so, absolutely, I would do that.”

And with that use of “absolutely,” Hassan’s campaign had all the footage it needed for the only advertisement it needs to run through Election Day. You take the concept of the Clinton campaign ad in which children are watching Donald Trump make fun of a disabled person, et cetera; cut to the debate moderator asking whether Donald Trump is a role model and Ayotte responding “absolutely”; I’m Maggie Hassan and I approve this message; scene.

So devastating was the prospect that Ayotte’s communications team needed to rush out a post-debate clarification.

Mmhmm. Her campaign’s going to need to double (triple?) the number of free condoms it’s doling out to make up for this one.

So … Pat Toomey? Mark Kirk? Richard Burr? John McCain? Here’s a question to prepare for as undercard debate season begins. As your campaign managers have already told you this morning.

Update, 11:50 a.m.: And there it is. Scout’s honor, I had not seen this before drafting the post:

Read more Slate coverage of the 2016 campaign.