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Denounced by his party and beset by accusations of sexual misconduct with minors, Roy Moore sought refuge in a church.
A friendly crowd of a few hundred people greeted the Republican U.S. Senate candidate with applause Tuesday night in the intimate Walker Springs Road Baptist Church in the southwest Alabama town of Jackson. Most stood as they clapped.
Moore’s message was largely the same one he’d been delivering before five women accused him of making unwanted sexual advances when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s and a county prosecutor. He deflected the allegations and tied them to a string of battles he’s fought, including defying federal court rulings that resulted in him being twice removed as chief justice of the Supreme Court.
“Obviously I’ve made a few people mad,’’ Moore told the friendly crowd. “I’m the only one that can unite Democrats and Republicans, because I seem to be opposed by both.”
Moore is counting on his core message -- that the nation needs to “go back to the recognition of God” -- to hold his base among evangelical Christians through a Dec. 12 special election against Democrat Doug Jones, which polls show he still has a chance to win.
But in Washington, Moore’s persistence has White House and Republican congressional leaders conferring and preparing for some tough choices about what to do next.
President Donald Trump, just back from a 12-day trip to Asia is set to get a briefing from aides on the matter, according to an administration official. Although Trump declined to directly comment on Moore while he was traveling in Asia, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he brought the situation up in a conversation with the president last Friday. Both men had endorsed Moore’s opponent in the Republican primary run-off. McConnell said he’s also discussed it with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Vice President Mike Pence since then.
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In the call with Pence, McConnell discussed the idea of having Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed to his old Senate seat if Moore wins on Dec. 12 but then is expelled by his colleagues, according to a person familiar with the exchange. The person said McConnell also floated the idea of Sessions running as a write-in candidate for the seat.
However a person close to Sessions said this week that the attorney general has told people at home in Alabama that he’s not interested in returning to his old Senate seat.
Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee withdrew from a joint fundraising agreement benefiting Moore, according to a filing with the Federal Election Commission, following a similar action last week by the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
At the Walker Springs Road Baptist Church Tuesday night, opposition from the entrenched political class only solidified the case for Moore.
Moore was introduced by Mike Allison, a pastor at the Madison Baptist Church in Madison, Alabama.
Allison told the audience he’s known Moore for more than 20 years and has endorsed him in several races. He said Moore is a person of “character” and “a man who’s been willing to fight for right at great personal and professional cost.”
Shawn Major a 53-year-old pastor from Bon Secour, Alabama, said he supports Moore for his “Christian values, his morals, his stand on the word of God” and said he hoped Moore would change the atmosphere in Washington.
“God uses a man and we’re praying that Roy Moore will be the man that changes the culture or the attitude of Washington,” he said.
The crisis atmosphere surrounding the campaign has been building since last Thursday when the Washington Post published the account from a woman who said Moore initiated sexual contact with her when she was 14. The Post named three other women who said when they were teenagers Moore pursued them for dates. On Monday, a woman came forward and accused Moore of sexually assaulting her when she was 16.
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Denunciation followed from numerous Republican lawmakers, who also urged Moore to withdraw from the campaign. The former Alabama supreme court judge has flatly denied the most serious accusations, though he left open the possibility he dated teenagers after returning from military service. He’s refused to step aside and has attacked McConnell, Republican establishment and the media instead.
The election is “up to the people of Alabama to make this decision,” McConnell said Tuesday. “From a Republican point of view, we would hope to save the seat and that might require a write-in, and all of those things are under discussion.”
Even if Moore can be convinced to withdraw, his name would still be on the ballot, creating the possibility of confusion and court challenges. A write-in campaign by another Republican is a long-shot given the short time until election and the difficulty of getting voters to successfully fill out a ballot.
If he stays in the race and defeats Jones, McConnell and Trump and national party officials face a dilemma. With the possibility that having Jones in the Senate will taint the party going into next year’s congressional elections, Republicans will have to decide whether to take the rare step of voting to expel Moore. The last senator discharged was Jesse D. Bright of Indiana in 1862, one of 14 lawmakers in the chamber thrown out for supporting the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Jones has largely stayed away from fanning the flames of the controversy and instead focused on what his campaign strategist, Joe Trippi, called “kitchen table issues.” While he’s managed to pick up support as some voters back away from Moore, the race remains a tossup. Two recent polls found Moore still ahead and two others showed the contest tied or Jones with a slight lead.
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