- Associated Press - Monday, February 29, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson refused Monday to promise he will back whoever is the GOP nominee for president, instead saying that he is praying whoever gets it is a “person of integrity, intelligence, ideas, and courage.”

Johnson for months, and as recently as last week, said he would support Donald Trump or whoever is the nominee. But he wouldn’t go that far on Monday when asked about Trump not immediately disavowing the support of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

“I’m praying, let’s see how the process plays out,” Johnson said on WTMJ radio. “We have such enormous problems facing this nation. I don’t like demagoguery on any side of the political spectrum and we have it across the political spectrum.”

Gov. Scott Walker, meanwhile, said he stood by a pledge he signed when he was still in the presidential race to back whoever is the eventual nominee.

Republicans in Wisconsin and across the country were being forced to respond to Trump’s latest comments related to the support of Duke and other white supremacists.

Trump told NBC’s “Today” on Monday that he did not hear or understand the question Sunday on CNN when he was asked about Duke’s support, blaming a “very bad earpiece.” He did eventually disavow Duke’s comments on social media.

Late Sunday, Nebraska’s Ben Sasse became the first Republican senator to say explicitly that he won’t back Trump if he wins the nomination.

Johnson is locked in a tough re-election fight with Democrat Russ Feingold. Johnson’s campaign spokesman referred to the comments Johnson made on WTMJ when asked whether he still planned to support whoever is the nominee.

“I go to bed every night praying that our nominee is a person of integrity, intelligence, ideas, and courage,” Johnson said in the radio interview. “This nation hungers for someone who can lead this nation, not be divisive.”

Both Johnson and Walker denounced white supremacists.

Walker, who dropped out of the GOP presidential race in September and urged others to do the same so Trump could be defeated, recommitted Monday to supporting the nominee no matter who it is.

“I signed a pledge - and I’m a person of my word - that I wasn’t going to run against someone else and I wasn’t going to support someone other than the nominee,” Walker told reporters in Blue Mounds, Wisconsin.

Walker was referring to a pledge he, Trump, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and the other Republican candidates signed in September not to run a third-party campaign and to back the GOP nominee.

Walker said he “probably” won’t endorse anyone until just before Wisconsin’s April 5 primary but “it’s something we’re watching.” Compared to Trump, Walker said his views are more aligned with Rubio and Cruz.

“While Trump is ahead, it certainly is not out of the reach of Rubio or Cruz, for that matter,” Walker said. “A lot will depend on who stays in the race.”

Johnson’s Democratic opponent, Russ Feingold, told reporters Monday that it was “shameful” that Trump didn’t immediately repudiate Duke’s supportive comments. Feingold has not endorsed Hillary Clinton or Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential race. He said Monday that either will be a “good candidate.”

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Associated Press writer Todd Richmond contributed to this story from Madison and Bryna Godar contributed from Blue Mounds, Wisconsin.

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Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP and find more of his work at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/scott-bauer


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