Sexual misconduct accusations transform Alabama Senate race

In this Sept. 25 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 Thursday, an Alabama woman said Moore made inappropriate advances and had sexual contact with her when she was 14. (AP photo)

WASHINGTON — Republicans weren’t supposed to have to worry about Alabama.

Yet in the span of a tumultuous afternoon, a low-profile special election became a Republican nightmare that threatens a once-safe Senate seat — and offers a new window into ugly divisions that continue to plague the GOP in the age of President Donald Trump.

Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, a 70-year-old former state Supreme Court justice, defiantly denied allegations of decades-old sexual misconduct with minors published Thursday in a Washington Post story. The revelations, a month before the Dec. 12 special election, triggered a sharp backlash from would-be Republican colleagues on Capitol Hill, who called on Moore to quit the race if the allegations were true.

It was a bittersweet moment for some in the Republican establishment who argued that Moore, a Christian culture warrior twice removed from his state’s Supreme Court for judicial misconduct, never should have been the party’s Senate nominee in the first place. Some blamed Steve Bannon, Trump’s former senior strategist, who broke from most GOP leaders — including Trump himself — by cheering Moore’s candidacy earlier in the year.

“Dear GOP, send your thank you cards to the Breitbart embassy attn: Steve Bannon,” tweeted a sarcastic Josh Holmes, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Moore is the latest soldier in Bannon’s self-described war on the Republican establishment. Frustrated that GOP leaders haven’t quickly executed Trump’s agenda, Bannon has vowed to defeat every Senate Republican up for re-election next year, save for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Bannon referenced Moore only briefly during an appearance Thursday night in New Hampshire, attacking The Washington Post — an “apparatus of the Democratic Party,” he called it — for also being among the first to report the “Access Hollywood” tape that caught Trump using sexual predatory language before the 2016 election.

“The Bezos-Amazon-Washington Post that dropped that dime on Donald Trump, is the same Bezos-Amazon-Washington Post that dropped the dime this afternoon on Judge Roy Moore,” Bannon said. “Now is that a coincidence? That’s what I mean when I say ‘opposition party.'”

The White House said Trump believes Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore “will do the right thing and step aside” if sexual misconduct allegations against him are true. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters traveling with Trump in Asia that the president believes a “mere allegation” — especially one from many years ago — shouldn’t be allowed to destroy a person’s life.

But Sanders said: “The president also believes that if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside.”

Moore’s challenge in Alabama comes the same week that Republicans suffered sweeping election losses across several states, none more significant than Virginia, where Democrats seized the governor’s office and may have changed the balance of power in the state legislature.

Across Washington, the calls from anxious Republicans for Moore to step aside if the allegations proved true grew as the hours passed on Thursday. They included Trump, McConnell and Cruz, House Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and Alabama’s own senior senator, Richard Shelby.

Moore showed no signs of going quietly, vowing in a fundraising message distributed in the midst of Thursday’s chaos to “NEVER GIVE UP the fight!” as he cast his struggle as a “spiritual battle.”