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Moore backers stand by their man

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Roy Moore’s supporters are shocked and angry. But it’s not Moore they’re upset with, after four women came forward to say that Moore pursued relationships with them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.

Moore, the Republican nominee in Alabama’s Senate special election, made his first campaign stop on Saturday since The Washington Post published the women’s accounts, including one by Leigh Corfman, who said that Moore undressed her and touched her over her underwear when she was 14. Moore denied the allegations before an audience of about 100 at the Mid-Alabama Republican Club in Vestavia Hills, drawing applause while casting the accounts as part of a conspiracy among the media, Democrats and the Republican establishment.

With the report still just days old, it is still unclear whether unwavering loyalty from some supporters will be enough to bring Moore a victory on Dec. 12, even in deeply Republican Alabama. But in the meantime, the response has shielded Moore against the demands of top Washington Republicans that he exit the race, and his base is prepared to fight on.

“There was kind of a shock of ‘Oh, my goodness, these accusations.’ And then the second reaction is, ‘Why now?’” said Ed Henry, a Republican state representative. “It just stinks to high heaven. … It’s intended to demoralize and cause Republicans not to vote in December.”

Paul Reynolds, a Republican National Committee member from Alabama who attended the Moore event, said he has seen Republicans dividing into two categories since the Moore story broke.

“There are going to be those who want to wait and see,” Reynolds said. “There will be others that are going to double down and try harder.”

Republican leaders around the country had the opposite reaction last week, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and others calling on Moore to leave the race if the accusations were true. Other senators and Mitt Romney responded without caveat that Moore should withdraw. Late Friday, Sens. Steve Daines and Mike Lee withdrew endorsements of Moore, while Sen. Bill Cassidy pulled back his support for Moore on Saturday. The National Republican Senatorial Committee also pulled out of a fundraising agreement with Moore.

But Moore, a former state Supreme Court judge who was removed from the bench twice, has instead denied and denounced the charges against him. “These attacks involve minors, and they are completely false and untrue — about something that happened nearly 40 years ago,” Moore said Saturday.

His supporters focused more on the timing of the accusations and the messenger than on the content.

Many took aim at the Post, which reported the story on Thursday and has been a frequent target of President Donald Trump’s Twitter screeds against the media. (Moore called the story “fake news” and promised “revelations about the motivation and the content of this article.”)

“The Washington Post has about as little credibility as Hillary [Clinton],” said Bob Sanders, a former lobbyist and longtime Moore supporter who also attended the speech.

“I think that it’s politically motivated,” said Sallie Bryant, the Republican Party chair in Jefferson County, Alabama’s most populous county. “I am party chairman, and so therefore I am for the party’s nominees and for our candidates, but I really feel like the timing of this is very suspicious.”

Moore also cast doubt on the women themselves, accusing them of harboring political motivations. (Corfman told the Post she was a Republican supporter and voted for Trump in 2016.)

“I’ve been investigated more than any other person in this country. That these grown women would wait 40 years to come forward right before an election to bring charges is absolutely unbelievable,” Moore said to applause.

But while Moore has enjoyed loud shows of support, they have not come from all corners. The Alabama Republican Party itself has stayed silent, and the party’s steering committee has been embroiled in a behind-the-scenes debate about what to do.

Some members are pushing for an emergency meeting and have started circulating a petition of support for Moore, according to one steering committee member. But not everyone on the 21-member committee has agreed to sign the document backing Moore.

A top aide to an Alabama member of Congress said the Moore campaign has been reaching out to the delegation, offering to connect members with Moore for reassurance that the story would blow over.

“I wanted to be like, ‘No, it’s much more than that, but you go on thinking that,’” the aide said.

Still, those Republicans who want Moore to go away appear stuck with him at this point. There is no known legal mechanism to remove Moore from the ballot at this stage, especially with some absentee ballots already circulating for the election against Democrat Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney.

Meanwhile, the accusations have galvanized a furious defense of Moore, who drew national attention over the summer as an outsider challenging appointed Sen. Luther Strange in the Republican primary. The Senate campaign had since faded from prominence — until now.

“He didn’t have any reason to get people excited. He didn’t have any reason to get them fired up,” said Republican strategist Jonathan Gray, who predicted a Moore win in December. “Now they’re coming out to defend their man.”

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