- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 19, 2017

Even as he craters in the polls and faces growing calls from Republicans to drop out of the race, Alabama Senate hopeful Roy Moore over the weekend cast his candidacy as a fight against the political establishment and said Republican leaders are trying to silence voters in his state.

Mr. Moore is facing accusations of sexual misconduct from at least nine women, including several who say the judge pursued relationships with them when they were teenagers. He has denied all of the accusations.

But the controversy has led many Republicans in Washington — most of whom backed Mr. Moore’s opponent in he primary, Sen. Luther Strange — to throw the candidate overboard. That has left Mr. Moore, wife Kayla Moore and his allies with little choice but to pit themselves as outsiders battling establishment political forces and the media.

“After all the attacks against me, against my family and against my husband, he will not step down,” Mrs. Moore said over the weekend. “We’re in a battle. Thank you for your prayers.”

Mr. Moore’s strategy centers on directing attention away from the claims about him and toward Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican officials calling for him to step aside.

“This is an effort by Mitch McConnell and his cronies to steal this election the people of Alabama and they will not stand for it!” he tweeted late last week.

Mr. Moore also has tried to rally his evangelical base, spending a great deal of time over the past week huddling with pastors and other conservative allies in an effort to clear his name and ward off the white-hot firestorm around his candidacy.

But there is growing evidence that the misconduct charges are having a real impact on the race, as Democratic candidate Doug Jones gains ground in the polls. The sudden shift in public support suggests that a Democrat could win a U.S. Senate election in Alabama for the first time since 1990.

A survey released over the weekend by Florida-based Gravis Marketing gives Mr. Jones a 5-point lead over Mr. Moore. The poll was conducted on Nov. 14 and 15 — well after the controversy began to make national headlines.

A Fox News poll released late last week gave Mr. Jones a whopping 8-point lead, and a RealClearPolitics average of a half-dozen recent polls gave Mr. Jones a slight advantage.

The shift in polling, combined with the fact that accusations against Mr. Moore come at a time of increased focus on sexual harassment on Capitol Hill and across the country, is leading Republicans to cut ties with the Moore campaign.

Sen. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican who previously stopped short of calling on Mr. Moore to drop out, said Sunday that the judge should leave the race. Like other Republican leaders, he suggested the party should find another candidate and mount a last-minute write-in campaign to help them save the seat.

“The allegations [against Mr. Moore] are stronger than the denials, and Roy Moore should find something else to do,” he told “Fox News Sunday.” “I certainly think there’s a strong possibility with a new candidate, a new Republican candidate, a proven conservative, we can win that race in Alabama.”

Sen. Susan M. Collins, Maine Republican, told CNN’s “State of the Union” program on Sunday that she doesn’t believe Mr. Moore’s defense, joining a growing chorus of lawmakers who say the accusers simply seem more believable.

“I did not find his denials to be convincing at all,” Ms. Collins said.

Meanwhile, the White House is increasingly distancing itself from Mr. Moore, a candidate whom Mr. Trump did not support during the Republican primary, instead campaigning in Alabama for Mr. Strange. Mr. Moore’s chief backer was former presidential adviser and Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon.

Since the controversy broke, Mr. Trump hasn’t directly addressed the situation, though administration officials say the president’s silence speaks volumes.

“We have serious concerns about the allegations that have been made,” White House Legislative Director Marc Short told ABC News’ “This Week” program on Sunday.

“If [the president] did not believe that the women’s accusations were credible, he would be down campaigning for Roy Moore. He has not done that. He has concerns about the accusations, but he is also concerned that these accusations are 38 years old. Roy Moore has been in public service for decades, and the accusations did not arise until a month before election. So we are concerned about several aspects of the story,” Mr. Short said.

Ultimately, White House officials say, the best tack is to simply sit back and let the election unfold, allowing Alabama voters — those who know Mr. Moore best — to have the final say on whether he belongs in the Senate.

The president “thinks the voters of Alabama should decide. I think that’s the most common-sense way to look at it,” White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday morning.

As for the accusers, Mr. Mulvaney said they seem credible but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re telling the truth.

“I think they’re credible. I don’t know who to believe,” he said.

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