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Moore denies sexual misconduct, but GOP fears election risk

  • FILE - In this Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, file photo, former Alabama Chief Justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore speaks at a rally, in Fairhope, Ala. According to a Washington Post story Nov. 9, an Alabama woman said Moore made inappropriate advances and had sexual contact with her when she was 14. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File) Brynn Anderson

  • Crystal Schilleci, 32, of Altoona, Ala., stands behind a grocery store counter in Mountain Top, Ala., on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. Schilleci says, she thinks Roy Moore is a "wonderful person, he's been an outstanding member of our community for years, and always doing good thing for us, but I think when an allegation like that is made, I think it should be taken seriously no matter how old you are or how long it has been," says Schilleci. She says she didn't vote in the last election but will vote in December for Roy Moore unless the allegations are true. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson) Brynn Anderson

  • Chris Hopper, 45, Altoona, Ala., talks with the Associated Press about Alabama Senator candidate Roy Moore, Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, in Altoona, Ala. Hopper, a neighbor of Moore, says, "why not vote for somebody that's got good Christian values. The world is going to hell in a hand basket, I was raised Southern Baptist and the way things are going now a days its just terrible, the allegations with Roy, its mud slinging at its best." (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson) Brynn Anderson



Associated Press
Friday, November 10, 2017

His party suddenly and bitingly divided, Alabama Republican Roy Moore emphatically rejected increasing pressure to abandon his Senate bid on Friday as fears grew among GOP leaders that a once-safe Senate seat was in jeopardy just a month before a special election.

Moore, an outspoken Christian conservative and former state Supreme Court judge, attacked a Washington Post report that he had sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl and pursued three other teenagers decades earlier as “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.” He added: “I don’t remember ever dating any girl without the permission of her mother.” As for the encounter with 14-year-old Leigh Corfman, as described by Corfman in Thursday’s Post article, he said, “It never happened.”

The story has produced a wave of concern among anxious GOP officials in Washington but little more than a collective shrug from many Republicans in Alabama, which holds a special election on Dec. 12 to fill the seat previously held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“Humphrey Bogart started dating Lauren Bacall when she was a teenager,” said state Auditor Jim Ziegler, referring to the then-19-year-old actress.

“I’ll always vote for him,” said 28-year-old Erica Richard, of Altoona, Ala., adding that she wouldn’t change her mind even if the allegations of sexual misconduct are proven true. “He’s a good man. I love him and his family, and they are all good people.”

Paul Reynolds, Alabama’s Republican National Committeeman, called it “a firestorm designed to shipwreck a campaign in Alabama. I think it’s sinister.”

Despite such support, experienced Republican operatives believe the Alabama Senate seat, held by the GOP for the last 20 years, is now at risk.

They fear the controversy could exacerbate the party’s broader Trump-era challenge in appealing to college-educated suburban voters – the same group that fueled a big Democratic victory in the Virginia governor’s race this week.

Those familiar with recent polling of the Alabama race suggest it was always going to be close despite the state’s strong Republican leanings – largely because of Moore’s controversial past.

In the immediate aftermath of the Post report Thursday, a wave of national Republican leaders called for Moore to drop out of the race if the allegations are true. They included the White House, the head of the House Freedom Caucus Mark Meadows, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

It got worse Friday.

The Senate GOP’s campaign arm formally ended its fundraising agreement with Moore.

The GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney condemned his colleagues’ caveat – only if the allegations are true.

“Innocent until proven guilty is for criminal convictions, not elections. I believe Leigh Corfman,” he said of the Alabama woman who said Moore molested her when she was 14. “Her account is too serious to ignore. Moore is unfit for office and should step aside.”

Facing a tough re-election, Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., likened Moore to Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, former Rep. Anthony Weiner and former Fox News executive Roger Ailes, all men accused of sexual misconduct.

“The defense from some of his supporters is beyond disgusting,” Comstock wrote. “Moore should not serve in the U.S. Senate.”

Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Steve Daines, R-Mont., withdrew their endorsements.