The GOP either gets a Democrat or a Republican accused of sexually abusing several teenagers in his 30s.
Either they lose the race to Democrat Doug Jones, diminishing their 52-seat Senate majority and making it easier for Democrats to compete for it in 2018. Or, they get an entirely different headache with former state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, who will face an immediate ethics investigation of allegations that he sexually abused several teenagers — including a 14-year-old — when he was in his 30s.
The race is tight, with most polls showing Moore slightly ahead.
“There is no good outcome for Republicans,” said Josh Holmes, former chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “The best they can hope for at this stage is that the pain ends sooner rather than later. If he wins, having a divisive figure like Roy Moore — with the seriousness of the allegations that have been brought against him — as a member of your conference in the Senate is a concerning development for every senator. Losing is potentially putting the Senate majority at risk in 2018.”
Moore denies the allegations against him and has refused McConnell and other Republicans’ calls to withdraw from the race. A far-right, anti-establishment wildcard, Moore doesn’t hesitate to fire back at party leadership — he called on McConnell to step down, instead — or attract media attention with controversial statements.
Twitter erupted last week, for instance, when a former Obama administration official retweeted a story about Moore’s September comment that America was great “when families were united. Even though we had slavery, they cared for one another.”
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As chief justice of the state supreme court, Moore got in trouble for refusing to remove a marble monument of the Ten Commandments from a state building, and for later directing probate judges to enforce the state’s ban on same-sex marriage after it was deemed unconstitutional.
Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, predicted that if Moore wins, he’ll spend much of his time on Fox News, “throwing live grenades like bowling balls down the center aisle every day.”
Alabama’s Republican candidate for Senate, Roy Moore, cannot seem to get out of his own way.
Duffy said Moore could have the same effect on the GOP as Todd Akins, the Missouri Republican who lost his 2012 bid after saying pregnancy could be prevented by a woman involved in a “legitimate rape” because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
“Akins became a virus that spread to other campaigns,” she said. “That’s what Moore has the ability to do in a cycle that already looks pretty hard for them.”
Matt Mackowiak, a Republican consultant based in Texas, agreed a Moore win could be a burden for his GOP Senate colleagues. He said senators worry about having to respond to controversial things he says, and about the impact on midterm elections, particularly for vulnerable Republicans.
“This puts a lot of senators in a tough spot,” Mackowiak said.
Democrats have already begun using Moore in their attacks against vulnerable Republicans. The party’s campaign arm in the House began sending out news releases last week, calling on targeted Republicans to disavow Moore and refuse support from the Republican National Committee, after President Trump endorsed him and the RNC resumed funding his campaign.
“The Republicans have accepted it, just as they accepted President Trump, who admitted to outrageous things, violating women,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., a reference to a 2005 Access Hollywood tape, in which Trump brags on a hot mic about groping women.
Moore won the GOP primary for U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session’s former Senate seat without the backing of Trump or McConnell, who both supported Sen. Luther Strange. McConnell and other Republicans called on Moore to step aside after the allegations broke, but Trump announced support for Moore last week, saying “we don’t want to have a liberal Democrat in Alabama, believe me.” On Friday, Trump urged Alabamans attending his rally in Pensacola, Fla. — about 20 miles from the Alabama border — to “get out and vote for Roy Moore.”
A Jones victory would be a big win for Democrats, who need three additional seats to win the Senate majority in 2018. That won’t come easy, given they’re defending 10 seats in states Trump won and other pickup opportunities appear limited, at this point, to Arizona and Nevada.
“If Alabama was in the D column, if they had a really good day in November, they could pick up the Senate,” Holmes said. “It’s almost impossible for them to do that without Alabama. But with Alabama, the possibility is brightened.”
Political observers agree that if Moore wins, he’ll face a hostile environment in the Senate. GOP leaders have acknowledged they can’t stop Moore from being seated, but they said he will immediately face an ethics investigation.
Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told the Weekly Standard on Thursday, “Roy Moore will never have the support of the senatorial committee. We will never endorse him. We won’t support him. I won’t let that happen.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who is not seeking re-election, tweeted a picture of a check he wrote to Jones’ campaign.
Of Moore, Flake told USA TODAY, “I just hope he doesn’t win.”