WASHINGTON (AP) — Hillary Clinton is turning up the heat on Republican candidates who are facing tight races as well as tough decisions about Donald Trump, seeking to spread her new momentum to fellow Democrats on November ballots.
Are you with him or not? she’s demanding, after revelations of his predatory comments about women prompted party leaders to abandon him. Some GOP lawmakers are doing as she demands — but not in the way she hoped.
Two senators and two House members who called for Trump to step aside over the weekend now have climbed back aboard. Their basic case: They’re voting for a Republican next month and if Trump isn’t leaving then he’s got to be the one.
John Thune of South Dakota, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate told the Rapid City Journal he had “reservations about the way (Trump) has conducted his campaign and himself.” However, he said, “I’m certainly not going to vote for Hillary Clinton.”
Also back on board after calling on Trump to resign: Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Reps. Scott Garrett of New Jersey and Bradley Byrne of Alabama. There still are some three dozen GOP lawmakers who have withdrawn their support or are calling for Trump to step aside.
Meanwhile, in campaign rallies in Colorado and Nevada on Wednesday, Clinton planned to call out Republicans still backing Trump despite his caught-on-tape boasts about groping women. The strategy is the latest sign the campaign is moving past a narrow focus on winning the White House, and now is aiming to win big — by delivering the Senate to Democrats, making deep cuts into Republicans’ majority in the House and, possibly, winning states long considered Republican territory.
Clinton and her surrogates, including President Barack Obama, in recent days have begun to pressure Republican candidates on the stump, particularly as Trump has declared he feels unshackled to launch the sort of hard-edged, personal campaign his most ardent supporters have long wanted.
In Florida, highlighted a new batch of hacked emails from Clinton campaign manager John Podesta’s account, published by WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group. He asserted that the emails show clearly that the former secretary of state and her family are corrupt.
“It never ends with these people,” he said.
Podesta has shown the Clinton campaign is willing to pull out its knives, too. Citing a tweet as evidence, he has suggested the Trump team knew in advance about WikiLeaks’ plans to publish his hacked emails. The group, which U.S. officials have said has ties to Russian intelligence, released a fourth installment of private correspondence between top Clinton campaign officials.
Podesta says the FBI is investigating Russia’s possible involvement in the hacking of thousands of his personal emails, raising the extraordinary prospect of a link between Russia and the U.S. presidential election. While acknowledging any evidence was circumstantial, Podesta said the alleged ties could be driven either by Trump’s policy positions or the Republican’s “deep engagement and ties with Russian interests in his business affairs.”
The FBI has said it is investigating possible Russian hacking involving U.S. politics, but has not mentioned the Podesta material specifically.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday in Moscow that “hysterics have been whipped up to distract the attention of the American people from the essence of what the hackers released. … They talk about who did it. Is it really that important?”
With polls showing Clinton pulling ahead in the presidential race and Trump digging in, Republican candidates for the House and Senate are tied in knots over how to handle the final weeks of the campaign. If they revoke their support for their party’s nominee, they risk losing his voters and losing their races. If they stand by him, they not only risk turning off moderate Republicans, but also being branded for years as aligned with the Republican who sparked a crisis for the party.
As party leaders step away from him, Trump is vowing to win the election his own way.
He is striking particularly hard at House Speaker Paul Ryan, who told Republicans Monday he’ll no longer campaign for Trump with four weeks to go before Election Day.
“I don’t want his support, I don’t care about his support,” Trump said. “I wouldn’t want to be in a foxhole with a lot of these people, that I can tell you, including Ryan. By the way, including Ryan, especially Ryan.”
With his campaign recently floundering and little time to steady it, he’s reverting to the combative, divisive strategy that propelled him to victory in the GOP primary, not that he ever left that fully behind. That means attack every critic — including fellow Republicans. Those close to Trump suggest it is “open season” on every detractor, regardless of party.
Associated Press writers Steve Peoples, Jonathan Lemire and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.
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