WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican Sen. Pat Toomey urged Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore on Sunday to drop out of the race, adding to the party’s growing disavowal of the controversial judge in a pivotal election following allegations that he initiated sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl decades ago.
Toomey said Moore’s explanations have been inadequate so far in response to The Washington Post report last week and that Republicans should consider current Sen. Luther Strange as a write-in candidate to run against Moore.
“You know, this is a terrible situation, nearly 40-year-old allegation, we’ll probably never know for sure exactly what happened,” said Toomey, R-Pa. “But from my point of view, I think the accusations have more credibility than the denial. I think it would be best if Roy would just step aside.”
Toomey did not rule out the possibility that Senate Republicans might work to unseat Moore if he wins the special election against Democrat Doug Jones on Dec. 12.
Moore on Sunday responded to the increased pressure by trying to raise money because of the sex claims.
“The vicious and sleazy attacks against me are growing more vicious by the minute,” Moore wrote in his fundraising pitch. “I’m counting on you to stand with me at this critical moment by chipping in a donation to help me bust through the vicious lies and attacks and get the truth out to as many voters as possible before December 12.”
The White House, pointedly noting that President Donald Trump did not back Moore during the primary, said Trump will likely weigh in on the Senate race when he returns from Asia later this week. The White House has already made clear that Moore should step aside if the allegations are proven to be true.
“I think there’s a special place in hell for those who actually perpetrate these crimes,” White House legislative aide Marc Short said Sunday.
“But, having said that, he hasn’t been proved guilty,” Short added. “We have to afford him the chance to defend himself.”
Moore, an outspoken Christian conservative and former state Supreme Court judge, has attacked the Washington Post report that he had sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl and pursued three other teenagers decades earlier as “completely false and misleading.” Still, in an interview with conservative radio host Sean Hannity, he did not wholly rule out dating teenage girls when he was in his early 30s.
Asked if that would have been usual for him, Moore said, “Not generally, no.”
The story has stirred concern among anxious GOP officials in Washington in a key race to fill the Senate seat once held by Jeff Sessions, now the U.S. attorney general. Losing the special election to a Democrat would imperil Republicans’ already slim 52-48 majority in the Senate, which is hoping to pass a tax overhaul later this year.
But a Moore victory also would pose risks if he were to join the Senate GOP with a cloud of sexual misconduct allegations.
In the immediate aftermath of the Post report Thursday, a wave of national Republican leaders called for Moore to drop out of the race if the allegations are true. They included the head of the House Freedom Caucus, Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Over the weekend, more Republicans distanced themselves from Moore.
“Look, I’m sorry, but even before these reports surfaced, Roy Moore’s nomination was a bridge too far,” tweeted Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., on Saturday.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., on Sunday said Moore’s denials seemed to raise more questions.
“Certainly, the allegations are very, very strong. The denial was not as strong as the allegations,” Scott said. “If the allegations are true, there is no doubt he should step aside. And not for the party, but for the American people. We have to find a way to restore trust and confidence in our elected officials in our government, and this goes in the wrong direction.”
Even if Moore were to step aside, his name would likely remain on the ballot. And any effort to add Strange as a write-in candidate would threaten to divide the GOP vote in a way that would give the Democratic candidate a greater chance of winning. Moore beat Strange in the Republican primary in September.
Mindful of the stakes, Democrats on Sunday appeared largely content to let Republicans debate whether Moore should be their standard bearer in the race.
“Look, we all know that Alabama is a very tough state politically for Democrats, but this is a special situation where we have a great candidate,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
“On the other hand, you have a very, very flawed candidate in Roy Moore, which is why many people are calling upon him to step down, but I’m going to leave this to the people of Alabama. This is their decision,” he said.
Toomey and Short appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Scott spoke on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” and Van Hollen was on “Fox News Sunday.”
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