Local Republicans weigh whether to keep backing Trump

By Heather J. Carlson, postbulletin.com - At a time when some Republican leaders are abandoning Donald Trump, plenty of local GOP congressional and legislative candidate are choosing to stand by the nominee.

A series of high-profile Republicans have renounced the party's candidate in recent days after a video was released in which Trump made lewd remarks about women and talked about kissing and groping them without their consent. Former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Trump no longer had his support. Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt went a step further, calling on Trump to leave the ticket. And earlier this week, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said he would no longer defend Trump and would instead focus on congressional races.

Democrats are eager to try and tie congressional and legislative candidates to Trump ahead of the Nov. 8 election. During the weekend, Minnesota DFL Chairman Ken Martin was joined by a group of female legislators who condemned Trump's comment about women and blasted Republicans for supporting his candidacy in the first place.

"All of us who stand here today stand here to make sure Minnesotans never forget that Donald Trump is your candidate, the Republicans' candidate. The Republicans endorsed him. They enabled him and now, unfortunately, they have to live with the decisions they made to let this guy become their nominee," Martin said.

Standing by Trump

First District GOP candidate Jim Hagedorn remains a staunch supporter of Trump. He said the second presidential debate highlighted Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's failure to solve any major problems. By comparison, he said Trump put forward proposals that would bring needed change to Washington, D.C.

"I certainly support him. I'm going to vote for him and would encourage other people to vote for him," Hagedorn said.

In the 2nd District, Republican candidate Jason Lewis condemned Trump's comments in the tape but has not renounced the candidate. A Lewis campaign spokesman did not return a phone call seeking comment. But Lewis did tell the Post-Bulletin editorial board this week that "Trump is not my first choice, and I certainly don't support the things he says, but I am not willing to hand the country back to the Clintons."

Lewis' Democratic rival Angie Craig has hammered him for being unwilling to walk away from Trump.

"He's shown voters in this district exactly the type of person he is — standing by a man who boasts about his ability to commit sexual assault. Jason has said plenty of terrible things about women, but I hoped he would be able to draw a line and join Minnesota Republican leaders in breaking with Trump," Craig said.

'I don't know'

While no local Republican lawmakers have announced they are withdrawing support for Trump, some are unsure whether they will support him in November. Rochester GOP Sen. Dave Senjem said Trump's comments on the recently released tape embarrassed the entire Republican party. Senjem said he cannot vote for Clinton in November, but he is not sure whether he will cast his vote for Trump.

"Am I going out and advocating for Don Trump? The answer is no. Will I vote for him in the privacy of the voting ballot? I don't know. It would either be to vote for him or vote for no one, " Senjem said.

Rochester GOP Sen. Carla Nelson said that Trump was not her choice to be the Republican nominee and she called his recent statements "vulgar," "sickening" and "appalling." And while Nelson made clear she in no way condones Trump's statements, she declined to say whether or not she will vote for him.

"I know this is politically expedient for Democrats to try and drive this type of wedge, but I don't think that's their place, and it certainly isn't my place to tell other people how to vote on other races. I'm focused on this race for the Minnesota Senate," she said.

Bigger concerns with Clinton

Byron Republican Rep. Duane Quam said while he does not like what Trump said about women on the video, he said he has bigger concerns with Clinton's actions, which include being reckless and careless with classified information by using a private server for her email. In some ways, he said Trump reminds him of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill who also had a gruff personality.

"(Trump) would not be the first world power leader that was lacking in social etiquette. And the first one that comes to mind is Winston Churchill," he said.

Rochester GOP Rep. Nels Pierson called Trump's remarks on the recently released tape "repulsive" and "completely inappropriate." Even so, Pierson said he plans to support the party's nominee. He said he knows Democrats are eager to attack local Republicans for their positions on Trump, but he doesn't think that strategy will work.

"People are concerned about local issues. They are concerned about MNsure. They are concerned about the bonding and tax bill that ended up not moving forward, "Pierson said. "Those are the things people care about in Minnesota."

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