HENAGAR — U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore said sexual misconduct allegations against him “reflect the immorality of our times” in a speech Monday, but Moore again declined to answer questions about those allegations.
“I do not know any of these women, nor have I engaged in sexual misconduct with anyone,” Moore said in remarks Monday evening before a crowd of about 150 local supporters — and a dozen television cameras — packed into a community center in the small DeKalb County town of Henagar.
Moore, a Republican in a deep-red state, was once favored to win the race for Alabama’s junior Senate seat, vacated earlier this year when Jeff Sessions became U.S. attorney general. Moore’s poll numbers took a turn downward after The Washington Post published the accounts of four women who said Moore pursued them romantically when they were teens and Moore in his 30s. Since then, five more women have come forward with similar stories.
One of the women was 14 when Moore allegedly initiated sexual contact with her. Another was 16 years old when Moore allegedly sexually assaulted her in his car. Moore has denied all the women’s claims.
Moore’s appearance in Henagar seemed to mark a return to the campaign strategy he was pursuing before the Post story broke. Rural, mostly-white communities were his stronghold in the primary and the runoff elections, and the former judge can easily pack a small community center to an elbow-to-elbow number.
The difference, now, is that Moore no longer takes questions, either from the audience or the press. Before the candidate spoke, campaign workers announced “ground rules” stating there would be no questions from the media, something the gathered reporters never agreed to.
At the end of his speech, Moore ignored or didn’t hear a shouted question about the once-popular Children's Health Insurance Program, which has run out of money because Congress missed a deadline to pass funding for it.
During the speech, Moore dismissed the allegations against him as an effort to derail his campaign before an election and asked why the women had not come forward in his earlier races for judgeships or the governor’s office.
The crowd applauded when he said he'd oppose funding for Planned Parenthood and support President Donald Trump and his effort to ban transgender troops from the military.
“I oppose transgender rights,” Moore said.
The campaign stop comes just as the campaign of Democrat Doug Jones was beginning to rib Moore — who has spent the much of the last two weeks responding to the sexual misconduct allegations — for spending 10 days away from the campaign trail.
The Jones campaign on Monday sent out a press release saying Jones has traveled to 140 campaign events in the past six weeks serving 1,600 pieces of fish at fish frys and organizing more than 400,000 campaign telephone calls in the last month.
Jones spokesman Sebastian Kitchen claimed the campaign was running “the largest, most active get-out-the-vote campaign Alabama has seen in a generation.” Turnout in the primary and runoff elections was low, and it’s likely both sides are heavily focused on turning out their base to sway the election.
Moore’s candidacy seems to have split elements of the Republican Party. Leaders at the national level, including Alabama’s other U.S senator, Richard Shelby, have expressed reservations about Moore as a candidate, while state-level leaders have largely stood by him — implying, at times, that their stance reflects the mood of rank-and-file Alabama Republicans.
For some in DeKalb County, the logic was more complicated.
“I'm here for the party, and I'm here for Roy Moore,” said Bob French, a Fort Payne lawyer and local GOP organizer.
French said he has worked with Jones and admires him. He wasn’t a big fan of Moore before the general election, he said — French voted for Mo Brooks in the primary — but he wants a Republican in the Senate seat.
“I voted for Mo Brooks and I voted for Ben Carson, not Trump, but I support the nominee,” he said.
French said he's seen too many political races to believe allegations that emerge in the last few weeks before an election. He wasn't the only person in the crowd who felt that way.
“I like what he stands for,” said Rev. Randy Coots of Forgiven Life Ministries in Henagar. “He wants to change Washington, but there are people in Washington who don't want that to happen.”
Monday was the last day for new voters to register in the election. Election day is Dec. 12.