Democrats seek to punish GOP Senate candidates over Trump audio

Story highlights

  • Democrats saw the controversial recording as a political opportunity and struck
  • Most GOP Senate candidates to whom CNN reached out did not respond

Washington (CNN)Democrats running for competitive Senate seats Friday slammed their Republican opponents for supporting Donald Trump after a vulgar audio tape surfaced in which he was caught making lewd and sexually aggressive remarks.

With control of the Senate up for grabs, Democrats saw the controversial recording as a political opportunity and struck.
    An example of the rapid response came from Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat running in a narrow race against GOP Rep. Joe Heck for the seat being vacated by Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid.
    "It's clear from Donald Trump's past comments that he does not respect women, but these comments are beyond disgusting," Cortez Masto said in a statement. "Lewd and offensive comments like this perpetuates a society in which sexual assault is normalized as 'locker room' behavior. Instead of standing up to this rhetoric, my opponent, Congressman Heck 'completely supports' Donald Trump."
    Heck supported Trump prior to the audio being released but could not be reached immediately for comment.
    One of the most vulnerable Republicans running for re-election is Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who made headlines earlier this week when at a debate she said Trump was a role model for children. She backpedaled a day later, saying she had misspoken. Ayotte has said she will vote for Trump but not formally endorse him.
    When news of the Trump audio broke, Ayotte quickly put out a statement saying, "His comments were totally inappropriate and offensive."
    But that fell short for her opponent, Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat.
    "It's unfathomable and utterly inexcusable that Kelly Ayotte could hear these vile Trump comments, bragging about sexual assault, and not immediately disavow his candidacy for president," she said. "Merely calling Trump's comments 'inappropriate' while continuing to support him to lead the free world is pathetic and wrong."
    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan both condemned Trump's remarks.
    "These comments are repugnant, and unacceptable in any circumstance. As the father of three daughters, I strongly believe that Trump needs to apologize directly to women and girls everywhere, and take full responsibility for the utter lack of respect for women shown in his comments on that tape," McConnell said in a statement.
    Trump was scheduled to appear with Ryan on Saturday, but instead will stay away from Wisconsin.
    "I am sickened by what I heard today," Ryan said in a statement. "Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified. I hope Mr. Trump treats this situation with the seriousness it deserves and works to demonstrate to the country that he has greater respect for women than this clip suggests. In the meantime, he is no longer attending tomorrow's event in Wisconsin."
    Sen. Ted Cruz wrote, "These comments are disturbing and inappropriate, there is simply no excuse for them."
    Another GOP campaign rival to Trump, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, tweeted, Donald's comments were vulgar, egregious & impossible to justify. No one should ever talk about any woman in those terms, even in private."
    Wyoming congressional candidate Liz Cheney tweeted, "As the mother of three daughters & two young sons, I'm disgusted by Trump's "locker room banter." His appalling comments are indefensible."
    CNN reached out to several GOP Senate candidates for comment but most did not respond, perhaps unwilling to touch the toxic comments from their standard-bearer.
    One that did is Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, who is in a close race against Democratic challenger Deborah Ross.
    "The comments are inappropriate and completely unacceptable," Burr said.
    And Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, who opposes Trump and frequently speaks out against his abrasive comments, tweeted, "DJT is a malignant clown -- unprepared and unfit to be president of the United States."
    Kirk is trailing Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth in most polls.
    Ron Johnson, an endangered Republican senator from Wisconsin, is scheduled to attend a Republican unity rally for Wisconsin Republicans Saturday. Johnson's campaign didn't answer whether he still plans to go.
    Other Democrats who tried to pressure their candidates include Katie McGinty, who is in a tight race against Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
    "The only thing worse than Donald Trump's comments are the people who should be standing up to him but instead do nothing. Pat Toomey likes to say he'll stand up to Donald Trump, but every time something like this happens, he runs and hides," McGinty said.
    Toomey tweeted, "Donald Trump's comments were outrageous and unacceptable."
    And former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat who is running an increasingly distant second to Republican Sen. Rob Portman, blasted the incumbent for still supporting Trump.
    "Everyone in America is disgusted with Donald Trump -- except Senator Portman," Strickland said.