A Republican senator has been mocked by the Democrats after saying she thought that GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump was "absolutely" a good role model for children.

Kelly Ayotte has since backtracked and said neither Trump nor Clinton "have set a good example and I wouldn't hold up either of them as role models for my kids" but not before her comments were seized upon by the opposition, The Hill reported.

The junior senator for New Hampshire made her initial comments at a debate in her home state when she was asked by the moderator: "Would you tell them [children] to be like Donald Trump? Would you point to him as a role model?"

She responded, in comments carried by CNN:"I think that certainly there are many role models that we have, and I believe he can serve as president and so, absolutely. I would do that."

Among those who criticised senator Ayotte's comments was Democrat senator Elizabeth Warren, who was once tipped to be Hillary Clinton's VP running mate and has long been embroiled in a war of word with Trump.

She tweeted: "Think about it: @realDonaldTrump calls Latinos rapists, African Americans thugs, & women fat pigs, & Kelly Ayotte thinks he's a role model."

But Ayotte faced more criticism after retracting her comments. She said in a statement: ""I misspoke tonight. While I would hope all of our children would aspire to be president, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton have set a good example and I wouldn't hold either of them as role models for my kids."

Senator Warren responded with several follow up tweets criticising Ayotte, whose retraction of her comments about Trump as a role model will worry some Republicans who fear Trump's often outlandish statements on a variety of subjects will negatively affect their chances in the Senate.

Ayotte, who was tipped as a potential running mate for Trump critic Mitt Romney in 2012, also stated that while she would be voting for Trump, she had not endorsed him and does not appear to have any plans to do so.