The top Republican in the Senate said Monday that candidate Roy Moore should quit his Alabama race amid allegations he had sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl and pursued romantic relationships with other teenage girls decades ago.
“I believe the women,” said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The Kentucky Republican said flatly that Moore should step aside for another candidate days after the Washington Post report that rocked the campaign for what the Republicans had considered an inevitable special election win on Dec. 12. When the story first broke last Thursday, McConnell had said Moore should step aside if the allegations were true.
McConnell, questioned at a tax event in Louisville, said a write-in effort by another candidate was a possibility.
“That’s an option we’re looking at … whether or not there is someone who can mount a write-in campaign successfully,” McConnell said. Asked specifically about Luther Strange, the loser to Moore in a party primary, he said, “We’ll see.”
Strange was backed by President Donald Trump in the primary race, while Moore received support from former Trump adviser Steve Bannon.
On the Democratic side, one of the Senate’s moderate members is helping Moore’s challenger raise campaign funds, underscoring the party’s wary approach in an Alabama race that until recently was viewed as a virtually certain win for the GOP.
In fact, the fundraising bid by Sen. Joe Donnelly, a Democrat from Indiana, doesn’t mention allegations about Moore.
“Doug’s opponent, Roy Moore, is an extremist with a record of putting political ideology above the rule of law,” Donnelly wrote in a weekend email soliciting contributions for Democrat Doug Jones. Moore and Jones face a Dec. 12 special election to replace Strange, who was appointed to replace Jeff Sessions when Sessions was named U.S. attorney general.
Donnelly’s email also cites Jones’s background as “the son of a steelworker” and a prosecutor who “worked to lock away members of the KKK and terrorists for despicable acts of violence.”
Donnelly faces re-election next year in Indiana and is considered one of his party’s most endangered incumbents.
Moore using ‘fake news’ to fundraise
In a further indication of Democrats’ caution, the party’s No. 2 Senate leader, Richard Durbin, dodged a question Sunday about what the Senate should do if Moore is elected. He tried to shift the focus back to Republicans.
“President Trump is the leader of the Republican Party in America. It’s his responsibility to step forward and say more and do more when it comes to the situation in Alabama,” Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, said on CNN’s State of the Union.
Moore said a lawsuit will be filed over the Post report that detailed the allegations against him.
While pressure to quit the race four weeks before Election Day intensified from within the Republican Party, Moore assured supporters Sunday night at a Huntsville, Ala., gym that the article was “fake news” and “a desperate attempt to stop my political campaign.”
Moore said allegations that he was involved with a minor child are “untrue” and said the newspaper “will be sued,” drawing a round of applause. The former judge also questioned why such allegations would be levelled for the first time so close to the special election in spite of his decades in public life.
“Why would they come now? Because there are groups that don’t want me in the United States Senate,” he said, naming the Democratic Party and the Republican establishment and accusing them of working together. He added, “We do not plan to let anybody deter us from this race.”
Ala. governor still plans to vote Moore
The Post story quoted four women by name, including the woman who alleged the sexual contact at 14, and had two dozen other sources.
Moore, too, has tried to raise money from the controversy, writing in a fundraising pitch that the “vicious and sleazy attacks against me are growing more vicious by the minute.”
Even if Moore were to step aside, his name would likely remain on the ballot. And any effort to add Strange as a write-in candidate would threaten to divide the GOP vote in a way that would give the Democratic candidate a greater chance of winning.
Alabama’s governor is still on Moore’s side. Kay Ivey said Monday she plans to vote for Moore, but added that “there may be some more facts to come out.”
Moore, 70, courted controversy long before the recent allegations. The former chief justice of Alabama urged judges to defy a Supreme Court on gay marriage, said he believed former president Barack Obama is not U.S.-born, and once wrote an op-ed stating that Democrat Keith Ellison shouldn’t take the congressional oath because he is a practising Muslim.
While Moore has called the allegations “completely false and misleading,” in an interview with conservative radio host Sean Hannity he did not wholly rule out dating teenage girls when he was in his early 30s. Asked if that would have been usual for him, Moore said, “Not generally, no.”
The situation has stirred concern among anxious GOP officials in Washington in a key race to fill the Senate seat once held by Sessions. Losing the special election to a Democrat would imperil Republicans’ already slim 52-48 majority. But a Moore victory also would pose risks if he were to join the Senate Republicans under a cloud of sexual misconduct allegations.