GOP candidate for U.S. Senate Roy Moore speaks during a forum in Valley, Ala., on Aug. 3. (Bill Clark/Congressional Quarterly/Newscom/Zuma Press/TNS)

GOP candidate for U.S. Senate Roy Moore speaks during a forum in Valley, Ala., on Aug. 3. (Bill Clark/Congressional Quarterly/Newscom/Zuma Press/TNS)

Allegations against Alabama Roy Moore threaten to spark GOP Senate crisis

WASHINGTON — The Republican Party this week sustained losses in Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington state — but none of that compares to the political disaster unfolding for the GOP in deep-red Alabama.

The Washington Post on Thursday published on-the-record allegations against Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, who is being accused of sexual misconduct with young women and girls decades ago.

Within hours, top Republicans called on Moore to step down if the accusations are true — even though it’s too late to recruit a new Republican candidate to the Alabama ballot, just weeks out from a special Senate election that should have been an easy Republican hold, but now looks more complicated.

“It’s obviously a very difficult situation without easy answers as long as Roy Moore stays in the race,” said Doug Heye, a veteran Republican strategist. “Mitch McConnell or [National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair] Cory Gardner or whomever can’t actually remove him. The fact that they are out there as fast as they are shows how serious they take it, but this is a matter of Alabama election law and Roy Moore’s conscience.

“It’s more than a headache,” he added.

Republican leaders are now choosing between withdrawing their support for Moore — and possibly endangering a Senate seat — and supporting a candidate who, if elected, could damage the GOP’s reputation more broadly. The party holds only a slim majority in the upper chamber, at 52 seats, and a loss in Alabama  could jeopardize its hold on the majority in the 2018 midterm elections.

Adding to the pressure: Moore already has a well-documented history of incendiary rhetoric that includes criticizing LGBTQ people and questioning whether Muslims should serve in public office.

Both McConnell and Gardner, among a host of other senators, have called on Moore to drop out as chatter mounts on Capitol Hill about the possibilities and limitations of a write-in campaign. Significantly, Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby also  pushed Moore to step aside.

Moore is running against Doug Jones, the Democratic nominee for Senate who was universally considered a longshot to win the race.

Moore strenuously denies the allegations and his campaign chairman, Bill Armistead, said that “this garbage is the very definition of fake news and intentional defamation.”

But some Democratic groups immediately jumped on the news, saying that Moore “should be serving in prison, not in the Senate” and blaming Republican leaders for supporting his candidacy.

Republican leaders in the Senate had previously endorsed Moore following the primary.

He made Christian morality central to his political career, forcefully arguing that biblical principles were necessary to keep America strong. His beliefs led him to being removed from the Alabama Supreme Court twice, once for refusing to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments from court grounds in 2003 and a second time for refusing to comply with the United States Supreme Court’s decision in 2015 to legalize gay marriage.

An official with the Alabama secretary of state’s office said Thursday it’s too late to remove Moore’s name from the ballot for next month’s election. But his candidacy can still be withdrawn, whether through Moore’s own decision or by action from the Alabama Republican Party. If his candidacy is withdrawn, but his candidacy still receives the most votes, the election would be declared null and void, according to the Alabama official.

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