Republicans Try to Block Moore’s Path as Candidate Denies Sexual Misconduct
Republican leaders are searching for a way to block Roy Moore’s path to the Senate, but the jurist remains defiant over charges that he made advances on teens.
WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans scrambled on Friday to find a way to block Roy S. Moore’s path to the Senate, exploring extraordinary measures to rid themselves of their own Senate nominee in Alabama after accusations emerged that he had made sexual advances on four teenage girls when he was in his 30s.
Mr. Moore remained defiant Friday, insisting in an interview on Fox News host Sean Hannity’s radio show that he would remain in the race. He told Mr. Hannity, who has endorsed his candidacy, that he “never had any contact” with Leigh Corfman, the woman who told the Washington Post that Mr. Moore touched her sexually when she was 14, though he did not deny dating some teenagers.
“I have never known this woman, or anything,” said Mr. Moore, who described the accusations as “politically motivated.”
In a flurry of phone calls, emails and text messages, Republican senators and their advisers discussed fielding a write-in candidate, pushing Alabama’s governor to delay the Dec. 12th special election or even not seating Mr. Moore at all should he be elected. In an interview, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, declined to say whether he would agree to seat Mr. Moore should he win. He deferred a question about a possible write-in campaign by Senator Luther Strange, the current occupant of the seat, to Mr. Strange.
The Senate Republican campaign arm, which Mr. McConnell effectively oversees, on Friday withdrew from a joint fund-raising agreement with Mr. Moore’s campaign.
The frenzy reflected not just the worry over the Senate seat once held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions but the broader danger of the Republican Party being associated with Mr. Moore.
If Doug Jones, the Democratic nominee, wins next month, Mr. McConnell’s majority would shrink to one, possibly imperiling the Republican push to overhaul the tax code and most everything else they are aiming to do to reverse their spiral before the midterm elections. It could also raise at least the potential that Democrats could seize control of the Senate in 2018, by holding all of their endangered seats and winning Republican seats in Nevada and Arizona.
But if Mr. Moore wins, the party faces a potentially more untenable prospect: welcoming an accused child molester in their ranks, a move that every Republican candidate will have to answer for. That raised memories of Todd Akin, the Republican Senate candidate who in 2012 said victims of “legitimate rape” rarely got pregnant, an assertion that Democrats hung around every candidate that year.
And Mr. Moore’s interview with Mr. Hannity only made Republicans in the capital more determined that he had to step aside.
“I don’t remember ever dating any girl without the permission of her mother,” Mr. Moore told Mr. Hannity. Asked by Mr. Hannity if he ever dated teenagers when he was in his 30s, Mr. Moore replied: “Not generally, no.”
Some Senate Republicans have encouraged Senator Luther Strange of Alabama, who lost to Mr. Moore in a bitterly contested Republican runoff in September, to run as a write-in candidate, an option Mr. Strange is considering, according to Republicans who have spoken to him.
In addition to Mr. Strange, Republicans in Washington and Alabama have approached multiple other potential candidates about mounting a write-in effort, including Representative Robert Aderholt, a mainstream conservative from the northern end of the state. But it is unclear that any prominent Republican will be willing to mount a wild-card campaign for the Senate unless Mr. Moore stands down first.
Absent Moore’s cooperation, Republicans in Washington have conferred with election lawyers to explore other long-shot options for replacing or marginalizing him, several of which would likely lead to a clash in court with Mr. Moore and his supporters.
One approach that Republicans are considering, according to people briefed on the deliberations, would involve asking Gov. Kay Ivey to order a new date for the election, scheduling it for early next year and giving the party time to persuade Mr. Moore to withdraw, or force him out of the race.
Alabama election law requires candidates to withdraw at least 76 days before an election in order to be replaced on the ballot, a deadline Mr. Moore has already missed.
State law gives the governor broad authority to set the date of special elections, and Ms. Ivey, who is a Republican, already rescheduled the Senate election once, after inheriting the governor’s office in April when her predecessor, Robert Bentley, resigned in a sex and corruption scandal. Ms. Ivey’s advisers have not ruled out exercising that power again, according to Republicans in touch with her camp, but she has signaled that she would like reassurances of support from the White House before taking any such step.
A spokesman for the governor did not reply to an email asking about her intentions.
But there is no apparent precedent for rescheduling an election so close to the planned vote, and it is unlikely Ms. Ivey could move the election without a court battle, Republicans acknowledged. But advocates of a delay say at least it could keep the election date tied up in court.