The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Watch a top Democratic candidate’s painful response to whether Hillary Clinton is honest

It's the question Republicans have been trying to avoid for months: Do you support Donald Trump in the 2016 election? Some say they support the party's "nominee" -- not mentioning him by name -- while others even physically flee.

But Democrats have an unpopular presidential nominee, too, and apparently fully embracing Hillary Clinton may not be so simple for some in tough 2016 races.

Witness New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D), who is running for a U.S. Senate seat. In an interview with CNN's Manu Raju airing Tuesday, she declines three times to say whether Clinton is honest and trustworthy -- a description that polls show as many as two-thirds of Americans say doesn't apply to Clinton.

RAJU: Do you think that she's honest and trustworthy?
HASSAN: I support Hillary Clinton for the presidency because her experience and her record demonstrate that she's qualified to hold the job.
RAJU: Do you think she's honest?
HASSAN: She has a critical plan, among others, for making college more affordable.
RAJU: But do you think that she's trustworthy?
HASSAN: I think that she has demonstrated a commitment always to something beyond herself -- bigger than herself.

Hassan's campaign clarified after the interview that the governor does believe Clinton is honest and trustworthy, but it's clear as day that she didn't want to say it if she didn't have to. And her awkward responses during the repeated questioning don't suggest a politician who is comfortable being a character witness for her party's nominee. She basically ignored the question and deflected, talking about something else that she likes about Clinton.

Of course, the difference here is that Hassan has made clear that she does support Clinton, and had many nice things to say about her. That's more than we can say for her opponent in the Senate race, incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), who has offered her own awkward responses when it comes to whether she supports Trump. She even said at one point that she would vote for him, but wouldn't "endorse" him. That landed her at No. 1 on our list of the top Trump evasions back in May. CNN quoted Ayotte as saying she'll vote for Trump, but also stand up to him.

Hassan's hesitance on Clinton, however, was about one specific aspect of of the Democratic nominee's character. Clinton has long struggled with the "honest and trustworthy" question, even as she has surged to a lead nationwide and in basically every swing state on the map.

Among those swing states is New Hampshire, where a Hassan victory could potentially make the difference to Democrats hoping to retake the Senate. The fact that someone in her position would be reluctant to fully embrace and defend Clinton suggests it's no easy call.