Hillary Clinton’s latest gaffe this past weekend, calling half of Donald Trump’s voters a “basket of deplorables,” could become political ammo in key U.S. Senate races.
Republican Senate candidates are often called to explain Trump’s latest controversial comments, but now the tables are turned.
It’s already playing out in the New Hampshire Senate race between Republican Kelly Ayotte and Democrat Gov. Maggie Hassan.
Clinton, who has strong support from Hassan, on Friday appeared at an LGBT fundraiser in New York and made the comments after Trump told a crowd in Florida that the Democratic presidential nominee could “shoot somebody” in public and not be prosecuted.
“To just be grossly generalistic, you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the ‘basket of deplorables,’” Clinton told the crowd. “Right? Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it.”
Clinton’s comments caused an uproar and she tried to walk back from it on Saturday.
“Last night I was ‘grossly generalistic,’ and that’s never a good idea. I regret saying ‘half.’ That was wrong,” she said in a statement.
On Monday, Ayotte’s campaign jumped on the opportunity calling on Hassan to defend her party nominee’s rhetoric.
“Hassan needs to prove to New Hampshire voters that she’ll stand up for them and either denounce Hillary Clinton’s derogatory comments or answer the simple question: does she believe a certain portion of Granite Staters belong in a ‘basket of deplorables’?” said Liz Johnson, Ayotte spokeswoman, in a statement.
Hassan’s campaign responded saying “Ayotte has failed a critical test of independence and judgement with her decision to put her political party before country.”
“While the governor does not believe we should make generalizations about Trump supporters, there are certainly some Trump supporters like David Duke who are clearly racist and who Trump has worked to appeal to with hateful, anti-woman and disgusting statements,” said Meira Bernstein, Hassan campaign spokeswoman, in a statement to WMUR.
Hassan has fully embraced Clinton as her party’s nominee, but Ayotte has a difficult relationship with Trump. She says she supports the Republican presidential nominee, but doesn’t endorse him — a move often criticized by Democrats in the state.
Hassan’s campaign tried to turn it back on Ayotte, asking if she supported Trump’s statement that he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin was a better leader than President Barack Obama.
Ayotte told the New Hampshire Union Leader last week that she doesn’t think Obama has been a strong leader, but “I certainly don’t think that we should compare our president to Valdimir Putin.”
This isn’t the first time that Hassan has called out Ayotte to explain her party’s nominee.
“He is dangerous to the country,” Hassan told reporters back in May. “I am appalled that Sen. Ayotte is supporting him, and I think she absolutely will need to be held accountable for Donald Trump’s statements and positions.”
Ayotte isn’t the only one asking her Democratic challenger to justify Clinton’s comments. The Republican National Committee is also making it an issue in races across the country.
“Every Democrat running for office in this country is going to have to answer the question, if they agree with Hillary Clinton insulting millions of Americans,” said Lindsay Walters, national spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, to LifeZette.
Clinton’s comments won’t hurt Democratic Senate candidates in every race, but Republicans are going to have to be careful how they play it in their campaigns.
“A lot of the effect will depend on how candidates themselves, campaigns and surrogates talk about this, especially on cable news, in the next couple of days,” said Liz Mair, president Mair Strategies LLC and a former RNC online communications director, to LifeZette.
“And my suspicion is that Republicans will mostly botch this, because they’re very good at walking right into traps set by Democrats where statements regarding race, especially, are involved,” she said.
Clinton’s campaign is already on damage control. In a memo, titled “‘Deplorable’ Comment Talking Points” obtained by The Washington Post, it advises fellow Democrats, in television interviews or other appearances, who speak on her behalf to chastise the media for applying a different standard to her if pressed on the topic.
“I think we can all agree that if Donald Trump said something controversial about Clinton supporters, it wouldn’t have been in his top ten list of offensive statements in day,” the advice reads. “It’s well past time the press stopped grading Trump on a curve. So is the press going to cover this story in the right [context], or are they going to hold Hillary to a different standard again? Are they going to make more out of this story than they made out of the racist, misogynistic Trump comments that got us here in the first place?”
There is some truth in that. Trump had a Monday interview on CNBC where he called U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) “Pocahantas” again. It wasn’t his first time calling her that, but not many media outlets covered it and if they did, it wasn’t high up in the story. The New York Times put the comment at the bottom of their story, leading some to say everyone has gone “numb” to Trump’s comments.
But aside from Benghazi and the email scandal which still plague Clinton’s campaign, the ‘basket of deplorables’ has become a major gaffe on which the media and opponents will focus. It could be something that hurts her campaign if she can’t shake it off.
Depending on how Senate Republican candidates use the Clinton “basket of deplorables” remark and if they try to hold their Democratic opponents accountable for her comments, it could have a significant impact on the races.
Many seats have switched from favoring Democrats to being true toss-ups.
In New Hampshire, Ayotte leads Hassan by eight points among likely voters, 52 percent to 44 percent in the latest NBC News/Marist poll, but Ayotte was trailing Hassan throughout the summer.
In the important swing-state of Nevada, Republican Joe Heck is at 47 percent, while Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto is at 45 percent. Even John McCain is now 19 points ahead of Democrat Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick in Arizona, 57 percent to 38 percent.
Another gaffe from Clinton and Senate Democrats might have to do some more explaining, even if they don’t want to.