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Moore defiant as Senate Republicans sever ties

The GOP’s Senate campaign arm on Friday severed its fundraising agreement with Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, the most concrete step the party has taken to separate itself from the besieged nominee.

But Moore and his backers remained defiant, portraying accusations that he initiated sexual contact with teenagers decades ago as a conspiracy by his opponents to drag down his candidacy.

The move by the National Republican Senatorial Committee came a day after The Washington Post reported the accounts of four women who alleged that Moore, as a man in his 30s, had pursued them as teenagers. One of the woman said he initiated sexual contact with her as a 14-year-old.

Two Republican senators rescinded their endorsements of Moore on Friday evening, with Steve Daines of Montana and Mike Lee of Utah pulling their support.

“Having read the detailed description of the incidents, as well as the response from Judge Moore and his campaign, I can no longer endorse his candidacy for the US Senate,” Lee wrote on Twitter.

Pressure also intensified on Friday for Moore to exit the race from national Republicans who opposed him in the primary and have never felt comfortable with the controversial former judge.

“Moore is unfit for office and should step aside,” Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 nominee, wrote on Twitter.

The Alabama Republican, however, has adamantly denied the allegations and insisted he will remain in the race.

Appearing on Sean Hannity’s radio show on Friday afternoon, Moore said he did not know his accuser, Leigh Corfman.

“I’ve never talked to her, never had any contacts with her. Allegations of sexual misconduct with her are completely false. I believe they’re politically motivated,” he said. “I believe they’re brought only to stop a very successful campaign, and that’s what they’re doing. I have never known this woman or anything.”

Moore’s spouse, Kayla, wrote a fundraising appeal in which she called on supporters to rally around her husband’s candidacy.

“Knowing you’re standing with him in his corner helps lift Roy’s spirits and encourages him to continue slugging it out with everything he’s got against the forces of evil,” she wrote.

While the Senate GOP campaign arm has ended its fundraising arrangement with Moore, he still has one with the Republican National Committee. Top officials with the committee, who have been in talks with the White House, are still trying to determine whether to sever its ties with the candidate. The RNC also has field staffers in Alabama.

After the story broke on Thursday, RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel spoke by phone with White House political director Bill Stepien. Yet as of Friday afternoon, she still had not connected with President Donald Trump, who is traveling abroad in Asia.

Throughout his Alabama Senate primary against Sen. Luther Strange, Moore pummeled the Republican establishment practically on a daily basis. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and strategist Karl Rove were his favorite punching bags.

But there was no love lost in either direction. The NRSC campaigned against Moore, and a McConnell-backed super PAC spent millions casting Moore, who was twice removed from the Alabama Supreme Court for defying federal orders, as unfit for the Senate.

Nonetheless, the two sides made up, at least formally, after the election. In late October, Moore’s campaign entered into a fundraising pact with the RNC, the NRSC and the Alabama Republican Party.

But paperwork filed with the Federal Election Commission on Friday showed that the NRSC is no longer listed as part of a joint fundraising committee with Moore’s campaign.

“The allegations against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore are deeply troubling. If these allegations are found to be true, Roy Moore must drop out of the Alabama special Senate election,” NRSC Chairman Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said in a statement Thursday.

The joint fund, dubbed Alabama 2017 Senate Victory Committee, allowed Moore to raise $80,500 at a time from individual contributors.

Moore is running against Democrat Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney, to fill the seat of now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the staunchly conservative state. The election is on Dec. 12.

The revelations have given Democrats hope in a race few thought was winnable for the party. Democrats took no new significant public steps to support Jones on Thursday or Friday, though a series of prominent Senate Democrats sent out fundraising emails for him.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has been monitoring the race closely for months, and remains in close contact with Jones’ campaign team. But national Democrats are wary of weighing in heavily given the party’s toxic brand in the state.

Republicans are racing to find ways to keep their hold on the seat, which was occupied by Jeff Sessions until he became attorney general. Some in the party are encouraging Strange, a former state attorney general who was temporarily appointed to the seat in February, to wage a long-shot write-in campaign.

Yet Strange has expressed little interest in the idea, said one person with direct knowledge of the discussions.

Moore and his supporters, including Breitbart chief Steve Bannon, have tried to turn the crisis into a rallying cry for his supporters.

In his Hannity appearance, Moore said his campaign had launched an “investigation” into the emergence of the story and found evidence of “collusion,” though he did not elaborate on what he meant.

“This is a hit job from the ultra-liberal Washington press seeking to not only destroy Judge Moore but the conservative movement sweeping America,” said Moore campaign chairman Bill Armistead. “Ultimately, the truth will be known about what is going on to keep Judge Moore out of the Senate.”

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