Senate Republican leaders call on Alabama candidate Moo…
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell led a chorus of establishment Republicans on Monday calling for Roy Moore, the party’s Senate candidate in Alabama, to withdraw from the race over allegations he had sexual contact with teenage girls decades ago.
A fifth woman came forward on Monday with new allegations that Moore sexually assaulted her when she was a teenager in Alabama and he was a prosecuting attorney in his 30s. Moore, who has refused to step aside, denied the charges and his campaign said he was the victim of a “witch hunt.”
McConnell told reporters in his home state of Kentucky that party officials were considering whether a Republican write-in candidate could be found to challenge Moore in the Dec. 12 special election.
“I think he should step aside,” said McConnell, who had previously said Moore should leave the race if the allegations were true. “I believe the women.”
Republican Senator Susan Collins joined McConnell in calling for Moore to drop out, saying she was not convinced by his denials.
The head of the Senate Republican campaign arm, Senator Cory Gardner, said Moore was unfit to serve in the Senate.
“If he refuses to withdraw and wins, the Senate should vote to expel him, because he does not meet the ethical and moral requirements of the United States Senate,” Gardner said in a statement.
Moore, a Christian conservative and former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, had been a heavy favorite to win the election against Democrat Doug Jones. He has denied the allegations first raised in a Washington Post story about his relationships with four women when they were teenagers, including a charge he initiated sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl when he was in his 30s.
He said on Twitter that McConnell was the person who should step down.
“He has failed conservatives and must be replaced,” Moore said.
MANY SUPPORTERS STEADFAST
The state party and many other Alabama Republicans have not wavered in their support of Moore, who scored a decisive primary victory in September over Luther Strange. Strange, who earned the support of President Donald Trump in the primary, was appointed to fill the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions when he became U.S. attorney general earlier this year.
The growing furor over Moore sets up a confrontation between establishment Republicans and the party’s populist movement, led by former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. That could endanger the Republican hold on the Senate seat.
A Democratic win in Alabama would be a blow to Trump’s agenda and shift the political outlook for next year’s midterm elections, giving Democrats a shot at gaining the three seats they need to recapture control of the U.S. Senate.
It is too late to remove Moore’s name from the ballot but McConnell told reporters he was “looking at” potential write-in candidates who could mount a successful campaign. Asked if Strange might be a candidate again, he said “We’ll see.”
On Twitter, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch said Strange was “an excellent alternative.”
The special election had been a long shot for Democrats in Alabama, which has not elected a Democratic senator in a quarter century. Jones, a former federal prosecutor, was trailing by double digits in some polls.
Moore, who is prone to incendiary comments on social and cultural issues, has survived controversy before. He was twice forced out of his position as chief justice, once for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the courthouse and once for defying the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.
He threatened to sue the Post over the weekend and said the allegations in its story were a smear campaign by his political opponents. Reuters has been unable to independently confirm any of the allegations.
The new accusation came at a news conference in New York, where Beverly Young Nelson said Moore had groped her while giving her a ride home from the diner where she worked when she was 16 years old.
“I was terrified. I thought he was going to rape me,” she said.
The new conference was arranged by lawyer Gloria Allred, who has represented women in a number of high-profile sexual misconduct cases. Moore’s campaign said Allred was trying to create a spectacle.
“This is a witch hunt against a man who has had an impeccable career for over 30 years and has always been known as a man of high character,” the campaign said in a statement.
Additional reporting by David Alexander and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Bill Trott
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