The allegations of sexual misconduct against U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore have continued to balloon, but while the controversy has spurred calls from Washington for Moore to exit the race, his base of supporters and Republican leaders in Alabama appear undeterred.
In the past two weeks, nine women have stepped forward to make accusations against Moore ranging from unwanted romantic attention to outright sexual assault. In the fallout, the reaction in Alabama and around the country has been mixed.
A number of national GOP leaders were quick to deem Moore “unfit” to serve in the Senate and urged his exit from the race so a more palatable candidate might mount a write-in campaign. Yet others, including the Alabama Republican Party, have not withdrawn their support.
State Party Chairman Terry Lathan broke an unusually long public silence last week to say that “Alabamians [would] be the ultimate jury in this election — not the media or those from afar.”
“Moore has vehemently denied the allegations made against him and deserves to be presumed innocent of the accusations unless proven otherwise,” Lathan wrote in a prepared statement. “He will continue to take his case straight to the people of Alabama.”
The idea that “the people of Alabama will make the decision” has been echoed by many in the political sphere, and with the election just weeks away and Moore showing no interest in stepping aside, Alabama voters do appear to be the only ones holding the gavel.
Allegations and responses
Troubles began for Moore when a Nov. 10 Washington Post article detailed personal accounts from four women claiming the Senate hopeful pursued sexual or romantic relationships with them in the late ‘70s, when he worked in the Etowah County District Attorney’s office. They would have been teenagers at the time, and Moore in his early 30s.
However, the real pressure for Moore to exit the race didn’t take off until Anniston resident Beverly Young Nelson went public with a much more serious allegation — that Moore had sexually assaulted her in 1977 when she was a 16-year-old waitress in Gadsden, Alabama.
With help from her high-profile attorney, Gloria Allred, Nelson detailed her allegations against Moore at a live press conference in New York City on Nov. 13.
Then, in reports from The Washington Post and AL.com, four more women came forward with claims about Moore’s past conduct toward them. Some accused Moore of subjecting them to unwanted advances, and others said they were groped or forcibly kissed without consent.
Unlike some of the first reports, which detailed allegations of Moore having sexual contact with girls as young as 14, all of those women were at least 17 during their alleged contact with Moore.
Moore has flatly denied all of the allegations, and in many cases has denied ever knowing the women who’ve made them. However, Moore’s camp has also mounted an offense against Nelson’s claim that Moore signed her high school yearbook prior to her alleged sexual assault.
During her press conference, Nelson produced a 1977 Gadsden High School yearbook she claims Moore signed with a message reading: “To a sweeter, more beautiful girl I could not say ‘Merry Christmas’ — Christmas 1977. Love, Roy Moore D.A. 12-22-77 Olde Hickory House.”
Attorney Phillip L. Jauregui, who represented Moore during the two cases that led to his two removals from the Alabama Supreme Court, has publicly questioned the authenticity of that signature and Nelson’s claim she hadn’t seen Moore since he allegedly abused her.
Jauregui says the pair had contact in a 1999 divorce action Nelson filed against an ex-husband that was assigned to Moore during his tenure as an Etowah County judge. Allred has since claimed there was no contact during the case because it was dismissed without an in-person hearing.
Last week, Jauregui specifically focused on the letters “D.A.” that follow Moore’s purported signature in the yearbook — letters Nelson and Allred suggested might have stood for “District Attorney” even though Moore was only an assistant district attorney at the time.
“Moore said he can’t ever remember signing his name with ‘D.A.’ after it, but he had seen it before,” Jauregui said. “When [Moore] was on the bench, his assistant, Dilbert Adams, would stamp his signature on documents and then put a capital ‘D.A.,’ and that’s exactly how it appears on the divorce decree that Judge Moore signed dismissing [her] divorce action.”
Jauregui demanded Allred release Nelson’s yearbook to a neutral custodian so it could be evaluated by handwriting experts to see whether the signature is “genuine or a fraud.” He also said Moore’s team hoped to test the ink in hopes of determining how long it has been on the page.
Allred has not released the book and has told the national press she will only do so if the Senate Judiciary Committee or Select Committee on Ethics conducted a hearing on Nelson’s allegations against Moore. Allred claims to have requested such a hearing, though there’s been no indication one is being considered or could even be scheduled prior to the Dec. 12 election.
On Twitter, Moore has counted each day since his campaign made that request in writing over the weekend: “Day 5 of New York attorney Gloria Allred’s refusal to turn over her fake yearbook for third-party examination.”
Another of the campaign’s targets has been the media, threatening The Washington Post and AL.com with lawsuits, although no action appears to have been taken and both publications have continued to stand by their reporting on Moore.
Moore’s wife, Kayla, has also made complaints on social media about reporters “calling and harassing anyone that has had any contact” with her. Those comments refer to requests made by a Washington Post reporter gathering sources for a potential profile piece on Kayla.
Kayla shared messages friends had received seeking information about her, which included the requesting reporter’s unredacted contact information. The campaign has since set up a portal on its website encouraging people to report “improper contact” from journalists.
A divided party
The response from Republicans has been fractured, to say the least. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who openly supported Moore’s primary opponent Sen. Luther Strange, has called for Moore to step aside, joining at least half a dozen other current Republican senators.
Moore has fired back, saying it’s McConnell who should step down because he has “failed conservatives.”
Even Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby said Moore should “seriously consider dropping out.” He then doubled down last week when he told reporters in Washington he would “absolutely not” vote for Moore and would instead write in the name of a “distinguished Republican” on Dec. 12.
Moore, however, has painted his critics in the GOP as “establishment Republicans” and recently accused them of “colluding with the Obama-Clinton Machine” in a fundraising plea to his supporters after the Republican National Committee pulled its support from Alabama race.
One person who has been uncharacteristically quiet about the situation is President Donald Trump, who built a brand weighing in on politics via his personal Twitter account. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders has said Trump finds the allegations “very troubling” but believes “the people of Alabama should make the decision.”
Trump, however, has not personally spoken about the situation and has denied direct requests from the media to do so. He did, however, Tweet about similar allegations of sexual misconduct levied against Democratic Sen. Al Franken just hours after they were first reported last week.
While Moore’s national support may be waning, his base of support in Alabama appears to have been galvanized by the allegations, which many have repeatedly characterized as a “desperate attempt” to derail a campaign that was polling far ahead of its competition just weeks ago.
Moore has called a number of campaign events anchored by those supporters since, the most recent of which occurred last Friday in Montgomery. There, dozens of women from Alabama and beyond — many of whom have known Moore for years — gathered to speak on his behalf.
Ann Eubank, who is heavily involved with several conservative groups in Alabama, told the crowd Moore was the “closest thing any of us has ever seen to a Founding Father.”
“A court of law is the proper venue for these allegations, not the media. If allegations alone are enough to step down, then the halls of Congress should be empty,” Eubank said. “This election puts the Senate balance at critical mass, and a Democrat must not be seated. If these women are not telling the truth and Roy Moore is defeated, Alabama is the victim.”
To cheers from the crowd, Eubank also threatened Alabama Republicans who would dare pull their support from the party’s nominee, saying Moore supporters and conservative voters would “revolt” and it would “be bad for the party in next year’s statewide election.”
While the state Republican party has clearly stated its continued support for Moore, Alabama’s GOP House delegation has yet to clarify whether its endorsement from October still stands. Last week, U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope, released a prepared statement mentioning the allegations while avoiding any clarity on whether they had affected his support for Moore.
“Frankly, I don’t think the people of Alabama want me, any national politician or the national news media telling them what to think or how to vote,” Byrne wrote. “The decision is ultimately up to the people of Alabama to evaluate the information they have before them and make an informed decision.”
More locally, the Mobile County Republican Executive Committee doesn’t appear to have taken an official public position, though posts on its social media accounts give the impression the group’s support of Moore has not changed in light of the sexual misconduct allegations.
Calls to Chairman John Skipper seeking comment on the matter were not immediately returned, though Skipper previously said he thinks the accusations are “bunk” — claiming that if they were true, Moore’s opponents would have used them during the GOP primary.
In a rally of support last week in Mobile, supporters made one thing clear: they were standing with Moore despite what anyone else thinks. P.J. Owens told Lagniappe she couldn’t vote for Doug Jones because she believes he’s a socialist.
“All Democrats are either ignorant or evil,” she said, noting Jones’ stance on abortion. “Look at the platform.”
Others, however, weren’t as strongly opposed to their Democratic counterparts. Donna Rodriguez repeatedly said the party of Doug Jones isn’t evil. She simply doesn’t believe the women who’ve come forward to accuse his opponent just weeks before the Dec. 12 election.
“I don’t believe for a second that he abused anybody,” Rodriguez said of Moore. “My hope is people will see through the charade. This is an important seat that we need to hold.”
Rodriguez also appeared to defend Moore’s purported interest in younger women, which is one element of the allegations Moore has not vehemently denied. Forty years ago, Rodriguez said, girls dated older guys.
“Girls got married out of high school,” she added.
If the abuse allegations against Moore could be proven, Rodriguez said, she’d feel differently. However, she and some other local Republicans believe the accusations are the work of the the national GOP, which left the area when the accusations began.
“He’s not McConnell’s guy, and I think this is a message to [Steve] Bannon to back off,” Rodriguez said of the controversial former White House adviser who declared war on establishment Republicans after his unceremonious ousting from Trump’s inner circle.
Rodriguez said national Republicans abandoning Moore caused a groundswell of local volunteer support from people who, like her, who are eager to help the GOP candidate — adding that the change since then has been both noticeable and positive.
Another volunteer, Matt Carroll, blamed the allegations on what he described as “the Republican wing of the Democratic Party,” though he doesn’t believe they’ve hurt Moore’s base of support.
“I think the support is still strong,” Carroll said. “He’s got the best base of anybody. He’d give [former Sen. Jeff] Sessions and Shelby a run for their money.”
Most Democrats focusing on Jones
When the allegations against Moore first went public, Democratic challenger and former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones said he wanted to keep the focus on his campaign and “kitchen table issues” such as health care and the economy.
Jones said he would leave it to other people to “bring up the issues of the day,” though his campaign released an ad vaguely alluding to the allegations against Moore.
“They’re going to have to make their own judgments about Roy Moore; they’re going to have to make their own judgments about Doug Jones,” Jones said last week.
The allegations against Moore have purportedly led to an increase in the Jones campaign’s fundraising, though the latest campaign finance records won’t be filed until December. It’s also led to some small gains for Jones, according to some statewide polls.
While the noise surrounding Moore’s campaign has taken some of the focus off Jones, some argue that could be a good thing in a deeply red state such as Alabama.
Wayne Flynt, professor emeritus of history at Auburn University, said last week the “best thing the national Democratic Party can do is to stay out of the race,” and aside from events with former Vice President Joe Biden and civil rights icon U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, Jones seems to have heeded that advice.
Like some in the GOP, though, a number of Democrats have called on Moore to exit the race, including Rep. Terri A. Sewell, D-Montgomery, who took to Twitter over the weekend to say she believes the women “who have bravely come forward” with accusations against the Senate hopeful.
“Roy Moore should drop out of the Senate race,” Sewell wrote. “As Alabamians we should send a clear message that we have zero tolerance for sexual abuse and predatory behavior!”
Mobile County Democratic Executive Committee Chairman Vivian Beckerle told Lagniappe Jones’ local supporters plan to stay the course and let Republicans worry about Moore, saying, “It’s an important issue, but it’s theirs to resolve.”
“I’m sure some have left [Moore’s] camp, but we know he’ll obviously still have his staunch supporters,” Beckerle continued. “There will be some folks right there with him on election day, but we’re turning out voters as well, and we’ll see where the votes fall.”
Dale Liesch contributed to this report.