There’s no way to remove Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore from the Dec. 12 ballot, Alabama’s top election official said Friday, despite calls by some GOP leaders for Moore to step aside if sexual abuse allegations against Moore prove to be true.
“Even if he drops dead today, he’ll be on the ballot,” Secretary of State John Merrill said.
A Thursday story by The Washington Post recounts allegations by four Etowah County women who say that in the 1970s Moore, then in his 30s, made romantic advances toward them. All the women were in their teens at the time of the alleged advances. The story also alleges he took an 18-year-old on a date to Mater’s Pizza in Gadsden in which the pair drank wine. The drinking age in Alabama was 19 at the time.
One of the women, Leigh Corfman, told The Post she was 14 and Moore was 32 in 1979 when Moore initiated an encounter with her at his home in which he took his clothes off, undressed her and touched her through her underwear.
The age of consent in Alabama is 16. Moore was an assistant district attorney at the time the encounter is alleged to have happened.
Moore’s campaign on Thursday described The Post’s story as “fake news” and “intentional defamation.”
"I have never provided alcohol to minors, and I have never engaged in sexual misconduct," Moore was quoted as saying in a prepared statement Friday.
But top GOP leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. John McCain and President Donald Trump later said Moore should or would step aside if the allegations proved to be true.
Merrill said it’s possible for the Alabama Republican Party to withdraw its nomination, or for Moore to withdraw personally from the race — but it’s not possible to remove him from the ballot. Some Alabamians have already cast their votes, including residents serving in the military overseas or out-of-state. Moore will remain on the ballot, named as a Republican, Merrill said.
Moore has given no indications he’ll withdraw.
“Our children and grandchildren’s futures are on the line,” he wrote on Twitter Thursday night. “So rest assured — I will NEVER GIVE UP the fight!”
If he does withdraw, but still wins the majority of the vote, the election will be declared invalid, Merrill said. If he withdraws and Democratic opponent Doug Jones wins a majority, Jones will be Alabama’s senator, Merrill said.
Jones on Thursday called for Moore to “answer these serious charges.”
Calhoun County Democratic chairwoman Sheila Gilbert responded in a prepared statement that didn’t directly attack Moore on the charges, but did say the voters would weigh “the true moral characters” of the candidates, a process she said would “result in the election of Doug Jones.”
Historically, sex-abuse allegations have been a death knell for almost any campaign. Earlier this year, former Gov. Robert Bentley resigned from office following a year of turmoil after allegations emerged of an affair between Bentley and a married advisor in his office.
Calhoun County Republican Party Chairman James Bennett said Friday that the Post story seems only to have increased support for Moore.
"My phone has been ringing off the hook with people wanting Roy Moore signs," Bennett said Friday morning.
Bennett said Moore would indeed be unfit for office if the allegations prove to be true. He said he and other Republicans are skeptical of The Post’s account.
"It's suspicious, at best, coming out four weeks before the election," he said.
Bennett said local Republicans won’t believe the story until they hear it from a conservative media outlet – not The Washington Post, CNN or MSNBC.
"They're fed up," he said of local GOP voters. "It's going to fire them up even more, because they're tired of the liberal media."
Cherokee County GOP chairman Josh Summerford echoed that sentiment.
"Most people in Cherokee County don't automatically believe that because it's in The Washington Post, it's true,” he said.
"I spoke the truth, and that's it," she said.
Jacksonville State University political science professor Lori Owens said it’s possible for Moore to win in Alabama, one of the reddest states, despite the allegations. Still, she said, the gap between Republican leaders and the GOP’s base voters could grow between now and Election Day.
“If the Moore story stays in the headlines you will likely see more and more sitting Republicans distance themselves from him, especially those who have only given him a lukewarm reception anyway,” she said.
“His main supporters will care little what The Washington Post says about him,” she said.