The Senate’s top Republican said Monday that GOP candidate Roy Moore should quit his Alabama race amid allegations he had sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl decades ago. Moore fired back that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is the one who should leave, saying he “has failed conservatives and must be replaced.”
The crossfire escalated a GOP civil war over Moore’s Senate candidacy in a Dec. 12 special election, which until last week was viewed as an inevitable Republican win in the deep-red state. The Washington Post reported that Moore was 32 when he is alleged to have initiated sexual contact with the 14-year-old and pursued romantic relationships with other teenage girls at around that time.
“I believe the women,” McConnell said Monday in response to a question at an appearance in Louisville. And he said flatly that Moore should step aside for another GOP candidate.
The Post story quoted four women by name, including the woman who alleged the sexual contact at 14, and had two dozen other sources.
When the Post’s story first broke Thursday, McConnell had said Moore should step aside if the allegations were true.
Shortly after McConnell made his remarks Monday, Moore tweeted his response.
“The person who should step aside is @SenateMajLdr Mitch McConnell. He has failed conservatives and must be replaced. #DrainTheSwamp,” Moore wrote.
Fifth woman accuses Moore of assault
Another accuser stepped forward Monday, saying that as a teenager in the 1970s she was sexually assaulted by Moore in a locked car.
Even before the news conference by Beverly Young Nelson, Moore’s campaign released a statement saying that attorney Gloria Allred — who’s representing Nelson — “is a sensationalist leading a witch hunt.” It said Moore is innocent and “has never had any sexual misconduct with anyone.”
In tears, Nelson said in New York that when she was 16, Moore drove her home from the restaurant where she worked. She accused him of touching her breasts and locking the door to keep her inside his car. She said he squeezed her neck while trying to push her head toward his crotch and tried to pull her shirt off.
Moore finally stopped and as she fell or was pushed out of the car, he warned her no one would believe because he was a county district attorney, Nelson said.
Republicans weigh other options
McConnell said a write-in effort by another candidate was a possibility.
“That’s an option we’re looking at — whether or not there is someone who can mount a write-in campaign successfully,” McConnell said. Asked specifically about current Sen. Luther Strange, the loser to Moore in a party primary, he said, “We'll see.”
Moore said a lawsuit will be filed over the Post report that detailed the allegations against him.
While pressure to quit the race four weeks before Election Day intensified from within the Republican Party, Moore assured supporters Sunday night at a Huntsville, Ala., gym that the article was “fake news” and “a desperate attempt to stop my political campaign.”
Even if Moore were to step aside, his name would likely remain on the ballot. And any effort to add Strange as a write-in candidate would threaten to divide the GOP vote in a way that would give the Democratic candidate a greater chance of winning.
Moore is an outspoken Christian conservative and former state Supreme Court judge.
While he has called the allegations “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.”
The situation has stirred concern among anxious GOP officials in Washington in a key race to fill the Senate seat once held by Sessions. Losing the special election to a Democrat would imperil Republicans’ already slim 52-48 majority. But a Moore victory also would pose risks if he were to join the Senate GOP under a cloud of sexual misconduct allegations.