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GOP lawmakers unmoved by latest Trump groping claims

Congressional Republicans were tripping over themselves to pull their Trump endorsements last weekend after the explosive video of him boasting crudely about his sexually exploits.

Consider the floodgates now closed.

The multiple accusations of sexual misconduct leveled against Donald Trump reported during the past 24 hours haven’t prompted more elected Republicans to pull the plug — and none are expected to do so, according to operatives working on Senate races.

After standing by Trump through all this, it’s hard to imagine what, at this point, it would take to change their minds.

“Asked and answered,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said Thursday when questioned about the new allegations against Trump. Though Blunt has denounced Trump’s actions, he’s still supporting him. “And the answer’s still the same.”

Other Senate Republican candidates were right there with him.

“I’m not going to defend Donald Trump or what he said,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said during a North Carolina Senate debate Thursday night. “But when I look at our choice, it’s not close for me. I’m going to support my nominee. I’m going to support Donald Trump.”

Campaign aides for Todd Young in Indiana and Marco Rubio in Florida had no comment Thursday on whether they would withdraw their support for Trump in light of the new allegations. And no other prominent Republican official yanked his or her support of the nominee in light of the accusations on Thursday — a far cry from the stampede days earlier.

“Ron has said Mr. Trump’s comments were indefensible — and it’s up to Mr. Trump to address these allegations himself,” said Brian Reisinger, a campaign spokesman for Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who has stood by his support of Trump.

The new allegations gave Democratic candidates fresh ammunition to tie their Republican opponents to Trump, who remained defiant in the face of the accusations on Thursday. He threatened to sue The New York Times, which published accounts of two of the women on Wednesday night.

“Sen. Pat Toomey now has the distinction of [being] the only Senate candidate in the entire United States of America to refuse to come clean about whether or not he supports Donald Trump,” Katie McGinty, the Democratic candidate in the Pennsylvania Senate race, told reporters on Thursday. “The only person asking to be elected United States senator refusing to answer this very basic question.”

McGinty added: “I guess, is Sen. Toomey saying he doesn’t believe these women?”

A campaign spokesman for Toomey, who has refused to answer whether he supports Trump or not, did not return a request for comment on McGinty’s remarks. But in a radio interview Thursday morning, the Republican incumbent continued to straddle his own blurry line when it comes to the presidential race.

“If Donald Trump becomes president, he can’t accomplish anything if Chuck Schumer’s in charge of the Senate,” Toomey told conservative radio host Chris Stigall. “And if Hillary Clinton becomes president, you want to have a check on what could otherwise be a really, really radical administration. Either way, I think it makes an awful lot of sense to have Republicans in control of the Senate.”

He accused McGinty of being a “rubber stamp” for Hillary Clinton, while stressing that voters want a Republican Senate no matter who occupies the White House.

It’s clear why Trump loyalists in the Senate are sticking with him: They no doubt witnessed the fierce blowback from the conservative base against some of their colleagues who rescinded their support last weekend. Nevada Republican candidate Joe Heck was booed at a rally as he announced he would no longer back Trump because of his remarks in the video.

At the same time, some early polling data suggests the damage to those who turned against Trump might be minimal.

“Don’t think it has any appreciable effect down-ballot,” said one GOP strategist on Senate races Thursday of the Trump controversies. “At this point, I’m not even sure it impacts Trump all that much.”

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who’s been trouncing Democrat Ted Strickland in polls for months now, is still riding high after his Trump un-endorsement. Strickland and the Ohio Democrats have been trying to promote anecdotes about tea party voters who say Portman has lost their support.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist Poll conducted after the Trump tape fallout and released Thursday showed Portman leading Strickland by 18 points. The same survey found Burr and Democratic challenger Deborah Ross tied at 46 percent among likely voters, in line with previous polling that show a tight race in the Tar Heel State.

In Nevada, a poll commissioned by the GOP super PAC Senate Leadership Fund found Heck leading Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto by 3 points, even as Trump is down by 6 points in a three-way presidential ballot. (On Wednesday, a poll from Public Policy Polling conducted for the Cortez Masto campaign showed a different outlook, with the Democrat at 43 percent and Heck at 39 percent.)

“There is no evidence that Heck announcing he could no longer support Trump is hurting him with Trump’s voters,” Republican pollsters Glen Bolger and Jim Hobart wrote in a memo on the SLF poll. Seven-in-10 respondents said Heck’s un-endorsement made no difference to them.

“I know it’s going to make a lot of people uncomfortable, and I’ve had a couple of people approach me and tell me they were disappointed in the decision that he made,” Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) said of Heck’s move in an interview Thursday. But “I think he did the right thing, and frankly, I think he’s going to be fine because of it.”

Another reason why Republicans may be frozen in place in terms of their endorsement: Those who waffled on their support for Trump — calling on him to step aside, and then saying they would vote for him after all — were roundly criticized, even by fellow Republicans.

“I don’t get it. I have to tell you, I don’t get it,” Heller said. “It’s very painful for me to watch these candidates move back and forth, and colleagues move back and forth, on where they are with Trump. I’m in the same place I’ve always been. I continue to stay here.”

Maggie Severns contributed to this report from St. Charles, Missouri.

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