GOP hopefuls struggle with support of Trump

GOP hopefuls struggle with support of Trump
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Vulnerable Republican Senate hopefuls are struggling to find the right tone about Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' EU says it will 'respond in kind' if US slaps tariffs on France Ginsburg again leaves Supreme Court with an uncertain future MORE’s rise to the top of the party’s ticket, weighing how to appeal to moderates without casting aside their base.

They’re choosing their words carefully as Democrats begin trying to tie them to their party’s presumptive presidential nominee in the hopes that doing so will help flip Senate control.


Here is what some of the most vulnerable GOP candidates in 10 close Senate contests have to say about Trump, whose candidacy is already affecting down-ballot races:


Illinois: Sen. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkAdvocates push for EpiPens on flights after college student's mid-flight allergic reaction Funding the fight against polio Ex-GOP Sen. Kirk registers to lobby MORE

Kirk, who is in a tight race with Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth, told CNN on Friday that “Donald Trump is kind of a riverboat gamble,” arguing the boost in Republican voters in the Illinois GOP primary and Trump’s win there will be a “net benefit” for the party in the fall.

At the same time, he’s worked to keep at a distance from Trump, criticizing him and arguing that voters will be able to differentiate Kirk’s stances from Trump’s. 


Wisconsin: Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonThe road not taken: Another FBI failure involving the Clintons surfaces GOP senator: Gun control debate 'hasn't changed much at all' back home GOP senators call for Barr to release full results of Epstein investigation MORE

Johnson spokesman Brian Reisinger said last week the senator will support the nominee. Like Kirk, Johnson seeks to separate his race from Trump’s.

“As Ron has repeatedly said for months, he intends to support the Republican nominee, but he’s focused on the concerns of Wisconsinites, not national political winds,” Reisinger said.

Johnson will face former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) in a rematch. Feingold lost to Johnson in 2010 by 5 points, but the GOP senator has an uphill fight in a state that voted for President Obama in 2008 and 2012.


New Hampshire: Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteTrump makes rare trip to Clinton state, hoping to win back New Hampshire Key endorsements: A who's who in early states Sinema, Gallagher fastest lawmakers in charity race MORE

Since Trump became the presumptive nominee, Ayotte has been hounded by questions about whether she’ll back the candidate, who overwhelmingly won her state’s GOP primary.

Spokeswoman Liz Johnson said in a statement that Ayotte plans to “support the nominee” but “isn’t planning to endorse anyone this cycle,” the New Hampshire Union Leader reported.

Ayotte has criticized Trump’s rhetoric, condemning him in February for not initially disavowing former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke’s support.

Ayotte has a primary challenge from the right, but if she advances as expected, she will square off against Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan.


Florida: Open seat

Republican Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads What the gun safety debate says about Washington Trump moves forward with F-16 sale to Taiwan opposed by China MORE’s open Senate seat created a turbulent primary race, and the crowded GOP field has yielded mixed responses to Trump.

GOP Rep. David Jolly, who called on Trump to drop out in December, wavered when asked last week whether he would back him, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

A campaign statement congratulated Trump on his Indiana primary victory last Tuesday, but when pressed by the newspaper, aides only provided a March 18 form letter in which Jolly said, “I am undecided whether I will be supporting Mr. Trump in November.”

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera has expressed support for electing a Republican president in the hopes of defeating likely Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump takes aim at media after 'hereby' ordering US businesses out of China Trump knocks news of CNN hiring ex-FBI official McCabe Taylor Swift says Trump is 'gaslighting the American public' MORE, but his campaign statement did not specifically mention Trump.

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) also called for the party to unite to block Clinton, according to NPR.

The winner of the GOP nomination will face one of Reps. Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.) or Alan GraysonAlan Mark GraysonFlorida's Darren Soto fends off Dem challenge from Alan Grayson Live results: Arizona and Florida hold primaries The Hill's Morning Report: Frustration mounts as Republicans blow up tax message MORE (D-Fla.), who are locked in their own bitter primary. Both have tried to tie each other to Trump.


Nevada: Open seat

Aiming to turn Nevada’s other Senate seat over to Republicans with the retirement of Sen. Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidNo, it is not racist to question birthright citizenship McConnell rejects Democrats' 'radical movement' to abolish filibuster Harry Reid: 'Decriminalizing border crossings is not something that should be at the top of the list' MORE (D), Rep. Joe Heck (R) is running in a state with a large Hispanic population and a presidential candidate who called Mexican immigrants rapists.

In a December interview with The Hill, Heck rejected Trump’s proposals to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall and ban Muslims from entering the country.

Last week, Heck spokesman Brian Baluta told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the congressman will back “the Republican nominee,” but did not address Trump by name.

Heck faces a primary challenge from 2010 GOP Senate nominee Sharron Angle, but he holds a 56-point lead. If he wins, he will face former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto (D).


Ohio: Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSchumer blasts 'red flag' gun legislation as 'ineffective cop out' McConnell faces pressure to bring Senate back for gun legislation Shaken Portman urges support for 'red flag' laws after Ohio shooting MORE

Portman, fighting for his seat against former Gov. Ted Strickland (D), said last week that Trump’s candidacy is a potential “positive” because so many voters came out during the Ohio GOP primary “to vote for Donald Trump who had never voted for a Republican before,” The Columbus Dispatch reported.

His campaign released statements promising to support the “Republican nominee” without naming Trump.

That, along with Portman having to fend off rumors that Trump could consider him for vice president, has played right into the hands of his Democratic opponent. Strickland’s camp has chided Portman at every turn for backing Trump in the hopes of tying the two together.

Polls are tight between the Ohioans, but Portman currently has a significant cash advantage.


Pennsylvania: Sen. Pat Toomey

Since Trump became the last man standing, the senator appears conflicted about supporting him in a state where polls show Trump closing in on Clinton.

In a Sunday op-ed in The Philadelphia Inquirer, he wrote: “Trump was not my first, second, or third choice. I object to much in his manner and his policies,” but that as  “a Republican elected official, I am inclined to support the nominee of my party.”

He also floated the possibility of abandoning his support.

“There could come a point at which the differences are so great as to be irreconcilable.”

On Monday, Toomey addressed Trump on a local radio station: “My message to Donald Trump is: You need to unite the Republican Party if you want to win this general election. I hope to get to the point where I can enthusiastically support Donald Trump. I’m not there right now.”

Toomey will face off against former gubernatorial chief of staff Katie McGinty (D). He holds a huge cash advantage and currently beats her in polls.


Colorado: Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch The Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes The Hill's Morning Report - Trump searches for backstops amid recession worries MORE (D)

Colorado is one of the GOP’s only targets this cycle, where Republicans believe Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerHickenlooper day-old Senate bid faces pushback from progressives The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch The Hill's 12:30 Report: Democratic field narrows with Inslee exit MORE’s inroads with Hispanic voters helped him score a Senate upset in 2014. 

All of the major GOP candidates said they’d back Trump as the nominee during an April primary debate.

Establishment favorite Jon Keyser said he’d support the nominee to defeat Clinton but that he’ll hold the president “accountable” regardless of party affiliation, according to a statement provided to The Hill.

Businessman Robert Blaha on Facebook called for the party to unite behind Trump and strongly praised the presumptive nominee as “a man of vision and courage.”

Two other GOP candidates, Darryl Glenn and Jack Graham, said they’d back Trump.


North Carolina: Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrHoekstra emerges as favorite for top intelligence post Trump casts uncertainty over top intelligence role Trump withdraws Ratcliffe as Intelligence pick MORE

It may be the “weirdest election cycle” Burr has ever seen, as he said, but he’s come down solidly in the pro-Trump camp.

He told state Republicans last week that “getting behind a candidate is absolutely essential” and that Trump is “Hillary’s worst nightmare,” according to The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C.

Burr faces former state Rep. Deborah Ross (D). While he leads in polls, he will have to overcome negative approval ratings.


Missouri: Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity GOP group targets McConnell over election security bills in new ad MORE

Blunt’s staff has signaled that he’ll support the Republican nominee, and he’s expected to attend the GOP leadership meeting with Trump on Thursday.

His spokesman told The Kansas City Star that Blunt would preach restraint and remind Trump of the party’s goal of defeating Clinton.

The GOP senator will go head-to-head with Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander in the Republican-leaning state.