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 beset the GOP in the age of President Donald Trump.

Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, a 70 -year-old former government Supreme Court justice, defiantly denied allegations regarding decades-old sexual misconduct with minors written 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.

But on the ground in Alabama, local Republican showed little sign of turning their backs on Moore. Some flogged out at his alleged victims.

“If they believe this humankind is predatory, they are guilty of allowing him to exist for 40 times. I think someone should prosecute and go after them. You can’t be a victim 40 year later, in my opinion, ” state Rep. Ed Henry told The Cullman Times.

“It’s mudslinging at its best, ” said one of Moore’s neighbours, 45 -year-old Chris Hopper of Altoona, Ala. He added, “Why not vote for somebody that’s got good Christian values? “

In Washington, however, the dispute recognized 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 “shouldve been” the party’s Senate nominee in the first place. Some blamed Steve Bannon, Trump’s former senior strategist, who broke from most GOP presidents — 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 campaign on the Republican establishment. Frustrated that GOP leaders haven’t rapidly 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, assaulting 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 speech before the 2016 election.

“The Bezos-Amazon-Washington Post that dropped that dime on Donald Trump, is the same Bezos-Amazon-Washington Post that plummeted 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 sex misconduct accusations 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 several years ago — shouldn’t be allowed to destroy a person’s life.

But Sanders said: “The president also is therefore of the opinion 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 Republican suffered sweeping election losses across several governments , none more significant than Virginia, where Democrat confiscated the governor’s office and may have changed the remaining balance of power in the country legislature.

Across Washington, the calls from anxious Republican for Moore to step aside if the allegations demonstrated true-life 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 proved no signs of running 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.”

It’s too late for Moore’s name to be removed from the ballot before the Dec. 12 special election even if he withdraws from the race, according to John Bennett, a spokesman for the Alabama secretary of state. A write-in campaign remains possible, Bennett added.

Sen. Luther Strange, the Trump-backed interim senator who lost to Moore in a September primary race, wouldn’t immediately say whether he’d re-enter the race.

“Well, that’s getting the cart ahead of the mare. But I will have something to say about that. Let me do some more research, ” Strange told The Associated Press.

In Alabama, however, many responded with a collective shrug.

“Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus, ” Alabama state Auditor Jim Ziegler told The Washington Examiner.

Alabama resident Becky Ashley dismissed the situation as a ploy by Democratic nominee Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney. “I don’t believe them at all, ” Ashley told the AP. “I believe this is Doug Jones, some of his doings, you know. I just don’t beliefs Roy Moore would do that.”

The disbelief stemmed, in part, from Moore’s reputation as a conservative Christian.

He was twice removed from his government Supreme Court position, once for disobeying a federal court order to remove a 5,200 -pound granite Ten Commandments monument from the foyer of the state judicial build, and later for advocating country probate judges to elude the U.S. State supreme court decision that legalized gay marriage.

He said more recently that Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn ., should not be allowed to serve in Congress because he’s a Muslim. Asked about those statements during a Washington visit last week, Moore said only, “I’ll address that later.”

The Post reported that Moore, then a 32 -year-old district attorney, approached 14 -year-old Leigh Corfman in early 1979 outside a courtroom in Etowah County, Alabama.

After phone calls and sessions, he drove her to his home some days later and kissed her, the Post quotes Corfman as saying. On two seconds visit, he took off her shirt and gasps and removed his clothes except for his underwear before touching her over her bra and underpants, Corfman told the Post. He also guided her hand to touch him over his underwear, she said.

“I craved it over with — I craved out, ” she told the Post. “Please only get this over with. Whatever this is, only get it over.”

Three other women interviewed by the Post said Moore approached them when they were between the ages of 16 and 18 and he was in his early 30 s. All four ladies spoke on the record to the Post.

Jones, Moore’s Democratic opponent, liberated merely an eight-word statement from his campaign: “Roy Moore needs to answer these serious charges.”


Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Andrew Taylor in Washington, Robert Ray in Heflin, Alabama, and Michael Casey in Manchester, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.

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