Some Republican officials stick with Trump, cite the issues

WASHINGTON (AP) — Some key Republican officeholders and candidates reaffirmed their support for Donald Trump Thursday despite new allegations from women that he groped and assaulted them. The Republicans argued that Trump would still be better on key issues like energy and the Supreme Court than Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“Asked and answered like 10 times in the last week and the answer’s still the same,” said Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, who is running for re-election, when pressed by reporters about Trump. “As long as the choice is Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton … Hillary Clinton will not change the Obamacare disaster, the out of control regulators or our terrible foreign policy. I think with a Republican Congress, that he may be able to do that.”

Said West Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Cole, president of the state Senate: “You have one candidate who wants to be there for our coal and our natural gas industry, and another one that wants to destroy them.”

“I was offended by what he said. But the choice is so clear: If we’re going to move West Virginia forward, we have to have Donald Trump in the White House,” Cole added. “We have to, to open our opportunities with coal and natural gas in the state.”

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During a campaign debate Thursday night, North Carolina GOP Sen. Richard Burr said he accepts Trump’s statements that he didn’t commit sexual assault and still supports Trump politically because he’s worried more about Hillary Clinton’s “lack of judgment.”

Strikingly, there was scant evidence Thursday of any additional GOP defections from Trump’s campaign.

In the wake of last Friday’s disclosure of the 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape of Trump talking about kissing and grabbing women, some big-name Republicans withdrew their support, including Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Rob Portman of Ohio, all of whom are up for re-election. But at least publicly, no one else appeared to be jumping ship on Thursday, perhaps because of the fury of GOP base voters, goaded by Trump himself, over the original defectors. A few of the original defectors subsequently got back on board, including Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, a member of the Senate’s GOP leadership.

Despite the new level of controversy surrounding him, Republican consultants generally believe that Trump has a core of supporters who will not abandon him. So for elected Republican officials in red states like Missouri, West Virginia or Arkansas, especially anyone running for office, denouncing Trump may not be a smart move.

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And those GOP officials who already had distanced themselves from Trump were largely silent on the new allegations Thursday. House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who on Monday announced he would not defend Trump or campaign for him, appeared before the Waukesha County Business Alliance but refused to take questions from reporters. He told the group he wanted to have a discussion on ideas and not “all the mudslinging and the mess that’s out there on TV.” He did not mention Trump.

The New York Times and the Palm Beach Post on Wednesday reported on three women who alleged Trump had inappropriately touched them. Separately, a People Magazine reporter wrote a detailed first-person account of being attacked by Trump. Trump denied it all, labeling his accusers liars and blaming a corrupt media establishment and criminal Clinton campaign.

In Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson reiterated his support for Trump Thursday, saying that while the candidate’s remarks about women are troubling, their being raised amid a political campaign makes the situation “very muddy.”

“You have two candidates that are both flawed, and the American public just has to evaluate it,” Hutchinson said. “My evaluation is on the big picture items of where our economy goes, where we go in fighting ISIS, in terms of the Supreme Court.”

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In Ohio, the office of state Treasurer Josh Mandel, a past and potentially future candidate for higher office, released a statement condemning Trump’s comments but adding: “For the sake of the Supreme Court, Second Amendment, religious liberty, fight against radical Islam and many other issues, his endorsement and vote for Mr. Trump still stands.”

And in Nebraska, Rep. Adrian Smith said that electing Hillary Clinton “would be a disaster. The choice in this election is between Clinton and Donald Trump, and on issues such as border security, terrorism, repealing Obamacare and appointing Supreme Court justices, my support has always been for the Republican ticket.”

Associated Press writers Jim Salter in Missouri, Kelly Kissel in Arkansas, John Raby in West Virginia, Scott Bauer in Wisconsin and Margery Beck in Nebraska contributed to this report.