MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A day after reports surfaced that a then-32-year-old Roy Moore had pursued and initiated sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl in 1979, the national Republican establishment is taking careful public steps to put distance between themselves and the Alabama U.S. Senate candidate.
In Washington, several senators suggested Moore should withdraw from the race. The National Republican Senatorial Committee pulled out of a fundraising committee, The Washington Post reported, with four weeks of campaigning left to go.
On Friday evening, two Senate Republicans rescinded their endorsements of Moore's candidacy.
But within state borders, the report was met with a mix of trepidation, skepticism and outright dismissal.
“I got more calls yesterday for Roy Moore signs than I have since the primary,” Calhoun County Republican Party Chairman James Bennett told the Montgomery Advertiser on Friday. “I think they’re (Moore supporters) are very skeptical of the reporting four weeks before the election. They’re going to withhold their judgment, but they’re not going to withhold their vote.”
Bennett said GOP voters in the state are deeply skeptical of “anything they read nowadays.”
“I think it’s going to affect the turnout — I think the turnout is going to be larger for Roy Moore,” Bennett said.
“He’s the only Republican candidate, and we support him,” said a woman who answered a telephone number listed for Judge Jerry Mobley, Winston County Republican Party Chairman. She said Mobley would not comment further.
Moore and his campaign vehemently denied The Washington Post story that alleged Moore initiated sexual contact with 14-year-old Leigh Corfman.
The sexual contact did not include intercourse but was illegal under state law. Three other women alleged Moore pursued romantic relationships with them while they were between the ages of 16 and 18.
Moore’s camp first released a statement via campaign chairman Bill Armistead calling the allegations “the very definition of fake news and intentional defamation.” Moore later took to Twitter and said he was in the “midst of a spiritual battle” with his opponents.
“The forces of evil will lie, cheat, steal –– even inflict physical harm –– if they believe it will silence and shut up Christian conservatives like you and me,” Moore said.
Moore’s use of evangelical imagery is consistent in both his personal and political life. He rose to national prominence because of a Ten Commandments display and regularly stumps as a scriptural firebrand.
Wayne Flynt, professor emeritus at Auburn University and a historian of Alabama faith and culture, said he doesn’t believe the allegations of sexual misconduct will be a disqualifier for Moore at the polls among his base of conservative evangelicals.
“White evangelical churches basically baptize Southern political culture,” Flynt said. “I think people who have left the Southern church can’t distinguish between a Republican precinct headquarters or a local church. It’s not his Christian moral compass that they're voting for, it’s that he’s not a Democrat.”
It has been a turbulent few years for Alabama GOP politicians, with former governor Robert Bentley ousted by a sex scandal and former speaker of the House Mike Hubbard’s conviction on felony ethics charges.
Flynt says he has seen a significant shift in the state from emphasis placed on personal behavior and morality to tent-pole social issues that fall along strict party lines.
“What we’ve done is reduce social morality to two issues. It’s not a matter of moral character," Flynt said. "We fixate on one or two signposts where we can say, we don’t have abortions and are appalled by same-sex marriage."
Bennett said “if the allegations are true,” he believes Alabama voters will support whatever decision the state party decides to make.
State Auditor Jim Ziegler called the allegations "much ado about very little" even if true.
But Bennett doesn't expect any information to come out that will satisfy voters before the Dec. 12 election.
“I don’t think we’re going to get that [proof] in four weeks,” Bennett said. “I think they (voters) are trying to get the facts they trust, and that’s not going to come from a source in the Northeast."