The bombshell allegations that GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore had an inappropriate sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl when he was 32 have roiled Alabama’s Senate race, where the GOP candidate had been heavily favored to win in December.
A cascade of Republican senators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory Gardner (Colo.), immediately began calling for Moore to step aside if the allegations are true.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) went the furthest of Senate Republicans on Thursday, calling on Moore to immediately step down.
“The allegations against Roy Moore are deeply disturbing and disqualifying,” McCain said in a statement. “He should immediately step aside and allow the people of Alabama to elect a candidate they can be proud of.”
Moore’s campaign vigorously denied the allegations as “garbage,” an argument that may resonate with his legion of hardcore supporters. Moore, a former Alabama state Supreme Court chief justice who won the nomination in the face of Beltway GOP opposition and frequently criticizes McConnell and other top Republicans, said in a fundraising pitch that he will “refuse to stand down.”
The allegations against Moore put Republicans in a predicament a month before the special election against Democratic nominee Doug Jones, one that threatens to weaken Moore’s grip on the race and tarnish the national Republican brand.
The Washington Post published the decades-old allegations in a Thursday afternoon story, with the most damning accusation levied by Leigh Corfman, now 53.
Corfman said she met Moore at the age of 14, when he offered to watch her while her mother attended a child custody hearing. At the time, Moore worked as an assistant district attorney.
Corfman told the paper that Moore asked for her telephone number and later took her to his house and kissed her. On a subsequent meeting, she recalled, he took off his clothing and much of hers, touching her over her underwear, and he tried to place her hand over his underwear, though she pulled her hand back.
Three other women told the paper that Moore had approached them when they were teenagers between the ages of 16 and 18, but that no sexual contact outside of kissing occurred. The legal age of consent in Alabama at the time was 16, while the statute of limitations has long expired on Corfman’s allegations, according to the Post.
Moore’s campaign chairman, Bill Armistead, blasted the allegations in a lengthy statement that accused the Post of publishing the story to hurt Moore because the paper’s editorial board has endorsed Jones.
“It is no surprise, with just over four weeks remaining, in a race for the U.S. Senate with national implications, that the Democratic Party and the country’s most liberal newspaper would come up with a fabrication of this kind,” he said.
During the primary, Senate GOP leadership spent millions backing appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.) against Moore to serve out the rest of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s Senate term. But Moore received endorsements from President Trump, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and McConnell after winning the runoff against Strange.
Now, Washington Republicans are backpedaling. But it’s unclear what that means for the situation on the ground in Alabama, where Democrats haven’t held a Senate seat since 1996.
While dozens of Republicans in Washington are calling on Moore to step aside if the allegations are true, Republicans in Alabama don’t think the story will resonate the same way for voters. Instead, they focused on the timing of the allegations, which come just four weeks before the election.
Paul Reynolds, the Republican national committeeman from Alabama, told The Hill that something about the timing of the accusation and the Post’s role breaking the story “doesn’t smell right.”
“My gosh, it’s The Washington Post. If I’ve got a choice of putting my welfare into the hands of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin or The Washington Post, Putin wins every time,” he said.