The top Republican in the U.S. Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said Monday that Alabama Republican Roy Moore should end his Senate candidacy in the wake of allegations he had sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl four decades ago when he was a 32-year-old local prosecutor.
McConnell previously said Moore should end his candidacy if the allegations were proven true. But now McConnell said he believes Leigh Corfman’s account of her 1979 encounter with Moore and that of three other women who told The Washington Post in a story published last week that Moore pursued them when they were teenagers and he was more than a decade older than they were at the time.
““I think he should step aside,” McConnell told reporters in Louisville.
McConnell said Republicans could attempt to win the December 12 special election with a write-in candidate, possibly by Senator Luther Strange, the appointed lawmaker whom Moore defeated for the party’s Senate nomination in a primary election in late September.
But a write-in candidacy would be complicated by the fact that Moore’s name has already been printed on absentee voter ballots and the deadline for withdrawal from the race has long since passed.
There was no immediate reaction from Moore, 70, about McConnell’s call for him to end his candidacy. But Moore could well ignore it since he has routinely ridiculed McConnell’s performance as the Senate Republican leader and rebuffed calls from other prominent Republicans to drop out of the race.
Moore’s contest against Democrat Doug Jones, a former federal prosecutor, is to fill out the last three years of the seat once held by Jeff Sessions, now attorney general in President Donald Trump's Cabinet.
Moore told political supporters Sunday that last week's Post report was "fake news" and "a desperate attempt to stop my political campaign." He said the newspaper "will be sued." The newspaper's story, included an on-the-record account from Corfman, now in her 50s, and from the three other women who said Moore pursued them as well.
Moore told the political rally that "there are groups that don't want me in the United States Senate," naming the Democratic Party and establishment Republican officials in Washington. He accused them of working together to derail his campaign, but said, "We do not plan to let anybody deter us from this race."
The White House has said Moore should end his candidacy if the charges are proven to be true, a stance adopted by other key Republicans, including most Republican senators.
White House legislative aide Marc Short said Sunday, "I think there's a special place in hell for those who actually perpetrate these crimes. But, having said that, he hasn't been proved guilty. We have to afford him the chance to defend himself."
McCain, Romney revoke endorsements
Aside from McConnell, other Republicans, including Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and two former Republican presidential candidates, Mitt Romney and Senator John McCain of Arizona, have called for Moore to end his candidacy or revoked their past endorsements.
Moore has tried to raise money off the controversy, telling potential donors that "vicious and sleazy attacks against me are growing more vicious by the minute."
He said, "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."
Four surveys of voters taken in Alabama, a southern state, in the immediate aftermath of the newspaper story and Moore's adamant rejection of it show him to be in a close race with Jones, separated by a few percentage points, with a significant share of undecided voters.