Democratic candidates in Senate campaigns often get the Clinton question.
“Is Hillary Clinton trustworthy?” a reporter would ask. And how the candidate responds becomes the soundbite for the next news cycle and sometimes political ammo for their Republican challenger.
Gov. Maggie Hassan has been criticized for the way she handled the question before, but now she has a unique response that isn’t used by many other candidates.
When CNN asked her three times in an August interview if Clinton was trustworthy, she dodged the question.
“I support Hillary Clinton for the presidency because her experience and record demonstrate she’s qualified to hold the job,” Hassan first replied.
Pressed on it again, she commented on Clinton’s “critical, critical plan among others for making college more affordable.”
On the third time, Hassan said, “I think she has demonstrated a commitment always to something beyond herself, bigger than herself.”
She later clarified that she does think Clinton is trustworthy, but she also added this line: “Yes, as do military and national security experts from both political parties.”
She’s referring to the 121 Republican national security leaders who said they would not be voting for Donald Trump because of his positions. But not all of them are going to vote for Clinton. Some said they would write-in another name.
Hassan brought up this talking point again this past weekend on WMUR when asked about her scripted nature of answers.
“Uh, I certainly didn’t give my best answer. I was so busy listing the reasons that I trust Hillary that I just didn’t say the magic word,” she said. “So yes, of course, I trust her as do national security and foreign policy experts from both parties who say that she is so well qualified to be commander in chief and lead our country and that is in such sharp contrast to Donald Trump.”
It’s interesting that Hassan brings up national security experts as a justification for Clinton’s trustworthiness.
According to a Tuesday CNN poll, 35 percent of voters believe Clinton is more trustworthy compared to Trump’s 50 percent. 15 percent are indifferent.
Deborah Ross, Democratic Senate candidate in North Carolina, had a similar response last month.
In an interview with WRAL News, she said, “Hillary will be an excellent president. I trust her to do that job.”
When pressed further, she said, “She is trustworthy as our commander-in-chief.” And asked again, she flatly replied, “She is trustworthy.”
Other Democratic Senate candidates don’t use national security experts or Clinton as commander-in-chief to answer the question.
Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, John McCain’s Democratic challenger, used a more general response that other candidates have used.
“Oh, I support Hillary,” Kirkpatrick said on CNN. “I mean, I’ve taken a public stance on that, and I think she’s the most qualified to lead this country. Look, there’s a lot going on. She has the experience and the knowledge to be president of the United States.”
Patrick Murphy, Florida Democratic candidate, point blank said, “Yes” to the trustworthy question.
So is Hassan and Ross’s response skirting around the question?
Dean Spiliotes, civics scholar at Southern New Hampshire University, doesn’t think so.
“It’s one way to get at the trust issue,” he told NH Journal. “One of the most important things citizens have to trust is the role of commander-in-chief, particularly during times of war and terrorism. What she’s [Hassan] saying is, for those of you who don’t trust her to protect the country, here are a set of national security elites and they’re Republicans. It works as a foreign policy credential.”
Spiliotes said it’s a reasonable response to the question and it’s a way to boost Democratic campaigns who don’t have a lot of national security experience.
“You have to be a lot more comfortable talking about national security as a senator than being governor,” he said. “The issue is that to an extent, Republican voters look at it as one of the most pressing issues. It’s a way to point to a credential for Hillary Clinton, who could be classified as hawkish. That’s a way to bolster her [Hassan’s] credentials then.”
It remains to be seen if this response to the Clinton trustworthy question could hurt the candidates, but Spiliotes said it could be a useful theme for Democrats to stay on until the election.
“Republicans are going to try to tag her [Hassan] with the sort of ‘talking points’ issue no matter what she does,” he said. “I will be interested to see if she sounds different in the debates.”