Judge Roy Moore

Judge Roy Moore greets Cecil and Jean Lindley after speaking to residents at NHC Place in Golden Springs in Anniston. Photo by Stephen Gross / The Anniston Star

A week after allegations of sexual misconduct emerged against Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, some local Republican politicians remain in a bind.

“I think I’m in the same boat as a lot of people,” said state Rep. Koven L. Brown, R-Jacksonville. “I’m just trying to figure out what in the world I can do with this.”

Brown is one of four Calhoun County lawmakers who publicly endorsed Moore in the Dec. 12 special election for U.S. Senate. He said Wednesday that he’s withdrawing that endorsement.

At the time Brown endorsed him, Moore was a celebrity among religious conservatives, a former judge who was twice disciplined for defying court orders on same-sex marriage and display of the Ten Commandments. He faces Democrat Doug Jones, a former federal prosecutor, in the general election.

The conversation around Moore shifted dramatically last week, with the publication of a Washington Post story in which four women claimed Moore pursued them romantically when they were in their teens and Moore in his 30s. Another woman, Anniston resident Beverly Young Nelson, said on Monday that Moore had groped her in an incident in 1979, when she was 16 and Moore was 30.

Moore has denied the allegations, saying they’re a political attack intended to keep him out of Washington.

“After 40-something years of fighting this battle, I'm now facing allegations — and that's all the press wants to talk about,” Moore said in a speech in a Clarke County church Tuesday.

The charges have created a dilemma for the dozens of elected officials, public figures and pastors who are still named on Moore’s campaign website as endorsers of Moore.

“I can’t not believe these ladies,” said Brown, the only local Republican. “It’s sad and disgraceful and all of the above.”

Brown said he believes people are innocent until proven guilty, and he said he had questions about the timing of the allegations, coming a month before the election. With time running out, he said, he’s not the only Republican who’ll have to make a decision with incomplete information.

Brown said he’s talked to Republican constituents who are wrestling with the same problem, but their struggle seems to be the exception rather than the norm in the week since the story broke. National party leaders began to abandon Moore within days of the first Post report.

Rank-and-file Republicans, by contrast, seemed to double down, citing their own distrust of media outlets. Local party leaders said volunteering was up, and a JMC Analytics poll had more than one-quarter of voters saying the allegations made them more likely to vote for Moore.

The state party has yet to officially respond to the allegations. U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks, and State Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, made no official response. Both men endorsed Moore before the allegations emerged. Attempts to reach both of them were unsuccessful Wednesday.

Some local lawmakers are standing by Moore and questioning his accusers.

“I just don’t know how you can remember something that clearly after 40 years,” said state Rep. Randy Wood, R-Saks. “It’s a sad situation. I think it’s all about politics, and they haven’t convinced me he’s done anything wrong.”

Wood said he still intends to vote for Moore. After an initial conversation with The Star, he called back to note that his support had its limits.

“If something were proven, it would be a horse of a different color,” he said.

That clarification may be a sign of the times. State auditor Jim Zeigler last week told the Montgomery Advertiser that even if true, the allegations about Moore were “much ado about very little.” Bibb County’s Republican chairman told a Toronto Star reporter last week that he’d vote for Moore even if the allegations were true.

“If he admitted guilt or was proven guilty, that would change everything,” said Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford. Hurst wasn’t on Moore’s list of endorsers; he said he wasn’t sure why, because he was a Moore supporter.

Hurst said he’ll never know the facts of the alleged incident, but he reads some meaning into the timing.

“I’m operating on the assumption that it’s all a political ploy,” he said.

Others were less confident of their choice. State Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, sent out a page-long statement on the allegations last week, becoming one of the few public officials to do so. True or false, Williams statement read, the allegations indicate “the worst of humanity on display.” As of Wednesday morning, Williams remained on Moore’s list of endorsers.

“He deserves a few more days to address these charges,” Williams said in a telephone interview Wednesday. Asked if he’d withdraw his endorsement after a few days without a response, Williams said he wouldn’t comment further. A lawyer by profession, Williams noted he’d worked with abused children in the past and took abuse allegations seriously.

Brown, the Jacksonville lawmaker, said he didn’t think the women’s accounts were less credible because they took so long to go public.

“It’s beyond what I can comprehend,” he said. “I can imagine, as a child or a young adult, how tough that would be to talk about. I understand them not reporting it.”

Moore’s endorsements webpage appeared to vanish Wednesday at about noon. According to reports in the press, the page became a problem for Moore in recent days. Two sheriffs listed on the page told reporters last week that they’d never been contacted for endorsements. Four pastors asked for their names to be removed after Moore’s wife, Kayla, re-circulated an endorsement letter that appears to have been written before the sexual misconduct allegations surfaced.

Attempts to reach local pastors on the endorsement list were not immediately successful Wednesday. The local listings appeared to include minor errors, with four staffers from a Piedmont church all listed as pastor, and Webster’s Chapel listed as a church in Gadsden. There is a Baptist church in the Webster’s Chapel community near Wellington.

The move came as top-level party leaders continued to move away from Moore Wednesday morning. CNN reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was proposing Attorney General Jeff Sessions as a write-in alternative to Moore. Alabama’s senior senator, Republican Richard Shelby, later told The Hill that he planned to write in a Republican.

Brown said that if Republicans are going to pick a path, they need to do it soon.

“Our backs are against the wall,” he said. “There’s three weeks until the election, and something’s got to give pretty quick.”

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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