Aug 2, 2016 10:18 PM

Tonight: War of words between Trump and Ayotte heats up

NH1 News Political Director

CONCORD – The seemingly quiet cold war between Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte and her party’s presidential nominee is not so quiet or cold any more.

After New Hampshire’s first-term senator slammed Donald Trump for criticizing the Muslim-American parents of a U.S. Army captain who was killed in the Iraq War, the GOP nominee fired back on Tuesday, saying “we don’t need weak people.”

Ayotte returned fire, stating that “I'm always going to stand up for our military families.”

Ayotte, who’s facing a tough Democratic challenge from Gov. Maggie Hassan as she runs for re-election this year, has kept her distance from Trump.

In May, Ayotte told NH1 News that “I’m going to vote for our Republican nominee. But I don’t intend to endorse anyone in this race. I’m running for re-election and I’m really focusing on serving the people of New Hampshire.”

Ayotte’s comments to NH1 News were her first in public after Trump became the GOP’s presumptive nominee. Ayotte’s stance fed attacks by Democrats who have repeatedly tried to tie the senator to Trump’s comments and controversies.

On Sunday Ayotte took aim at Trump’s push back against Khizr and Ghazala Khan, immigrants from Pakistan whose son Humayun was killed by a car bomb in Iraq in 2004. The couple took to the stage of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last Thursday and in an emotional address Khizr criticized anti-Muslim language from the GOP presidential nominee, saying “if was up to Donald Trump, (Humayun) never would have been in America.”

"Donald Trump consistently smears the character of Muslims. He disrespects other minorities, women, judges, even his own party leadership. He vows to build walls and ban us from this country,” Khan continued.

Then, holding up a copy of the Constitution, he questioned whether Trump had ever read it and said “you have sacrificed nothing.”

In the following days, Trump pushed back against the Khans. While he acknowledged that their son was a war hero, he questioned their motives. And he offered that he’s “made a lot of sacrifices.”

WATCH/READ: Top Trump adviser on veterans issues says Khan "disgraced" his son

That strategy brought condemnation from Democrats as well as some Republicans. One of them was Ayotte.

In a statement Sunday, Ayotte wrote that “the Khan family deserves nothing less than our deepest support, respect, and gratitude, and they have every right to express themselves in any way they choose.”

And taking aim at Trump, Ayotte added that "I am appalled that Donald Trump would disparage (the Khans) and that he had the gall to compare his own sacrifices to those of a Gold Star family."

Tuesday afternoon, in an interview with the Washington Post, Trump returned fire.

“New Hampshire is one of my favorite places,” Trump told the Post. “You have a Kelly Ayotte who doesn’t want to talk about Trump, but I’m beating her in the polls by a lot. You tell me. Are these people that should be representing us, okay? You tell me.”

“I don’t know Kelly Ayotte. I know she’s given me no support — zero support — and yet I’m leading her in the polls. I’m doing very well in New Hampshire. 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,” the GOP nominee added.

But an average of the most recent polling in New Hampshire, courtesy of Real Clear Politics, tells a different story, with Ayotte at 46% and Hassan at 45% in their blockbuster Senate battle. Trump, according to the polling average, stands at 39%, four points behind Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, in the race for the state’s four electoral votes.

Ayotte fires back, and Hassan weighs in

It didn’t take long for Ayotte to respond with a statement.

"I call it like I see it, and I'm always going to stand up for our military families and what's best for the people of New Hampshire,” the senator wrote.

New Hampshire GOP Chair Jennifer Horn, a strong Ayotte supporter who’s tangled with Trump and his campaign in New Hampshire over the past year, put out a statement saying “Kelly Ayotte is a strong leader and an independent voice for New Hampshire. Granite Staters are extremely proud of her service in the United States Senate.”

But the Hassan campaign and the New Hampshire Democratic Party highlighted that Ayotte had not withdrawn her support for Trump.

Hassan hammered Ayotte, saying "Kelly Ayotte's empty attempts to distance herself from her party's unpopular nominee are completely meaningless. Her continued support of Donald Trump tells Granite Staters all they need to know about Ayotte's lack of political courage.”

“Ayotte’s decision to support Trump for President — and to continue to stand by him as he reinforces every day just how temperamentally unfit he is to serve as President — raises serious questions about her judgment. Shame on Kelly Ayotte for continuing to put her political party before country,” the governor added.

In his interview with the Washington Post, Trump also declared that he wouldn’t back Sen. John McCain of Arizona and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin in their upcoming primary elections.

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