Former Alabama Supreme Court Judge Roy Moore is back — and giving Republicans headaches already.
Moore announced Thursday he’ll take another stab at the U.S. Senate, putting the accused sexual molester back in the national spotlight and triggering PTSD for local and national Republicans just two years after his scandals and baggage helped elect Democratic Sen. Doug Jones to statewide office in Alabama.
“Yes, I will run for the United States Senate in 2020,” Moore announced Thursday afternoon. “Can I win? Yes, I can win.”
Moore was quick to take swipes at national Republicans, accusing the National Republican Senatorial Committee of threatening a “smear campaign” against him because he “stands up for the United States Constitution,” while accusing his accusers of a “false flag operation” against him.
Moore’s decision comes even as Republicans from President Trump on down begged him not to run, warning that he’s the only candidate who could blow a race to Jones that’s key to Republicans holding control of the Senate. They’re probably right — he’s done it before.
Trump tweeted in late May that while he had “nothing against” Moore, he didn’t think the judge could win — and didn’t want the race put in jeopardy once again.
Trump’s son was even more explicit:
Local Republicans aren’t any more thrilled — including the ones who stuck with him in the last run.
“I’m concerned. As much as I like Roy Moore, he’d have an extremely tough time beating Doug Jones,” said Perry Hooper, Trump’s Alabama campaign chairman. “Right now we need to elect a Republican U.S. senator. I wish Roy would honor the wishes of the president.”
From Trump on down, most Republicans don’t seem ready to consider the moral ramifications of nominating a candidate who multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct. But that doesn’t mean they’re not alarmed about the potential political consequences.
Six different women came forward to accuse Moore of making sexual or romantic advances towards them when they were teens and he was an assistant district attorney in his 30s, including one who accused him of assault and another of molestation. Moore has steadfastly denied the accusations. He wrote in his book that he first noticed his wife Kayla when she was a teenager performing at a local dance recital, though they didn’t start dating until she was in her early 20s.
Those accusations led Senate Republicans including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to disavow Moore and call for him to drop out, though Trump stood by his man and campaigned for Moore in the race’s closing days.
Even before the accusations that he regularly sought to date teenage girls, Moore has long been a deeply controversial figure in the state. He was removed as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court on two separate occasions for refusing to follow federal court orders, the first time for refusing to remove a 10 Commandments statue on public grounds and hte second time for seeking to block gay marriage in the state even after the Supreme Court ruled it the law of the land.
That doesn’t even account for his numerous racial controversies, like his efforts to keep segregationist language in Alabama’s state constitution and his close ties to southern separatists.
Jones is by far the most vulnerable Senate Democrat up for reelection next year — he won his special election in the deep red state largely because of Moore’s controversies, and recent polling shows him already trailing a generic Republican candidate. But Moore is far from generic — and if he’s the nominee Jones has a much more realistic chance of reelection. That, in turn, gives Democrats a much more viable path to winning the minimum of three seats they need to net to take back the Senate next fall, a tall order.
Moore faces a much tougher path to nomination than he did last time given the accusations and his failed race. The field against him is also crowded: Former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville, Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) and state legislator Arnold Mooney are already in the race, with Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill (R) expected to jump into the race in the coming weeks.
Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) also hasn’t ruled out running for his old seat, and would be formidable. That field is nothing like in 2017, when Moore defeated appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.), an establishment figure with some scandal baggage of his own.
“It’s a huge waste of his time. This isn’t 2017. It’s a much different place, and by the way, people have already seen that movie and more importantly how it ends,” said one source close to McConnell. “You’re spending more time on this than most voters will.”
But even after blowing a race against Jones and facing such serious accusations of sexual misconduct with teenagers, Moore retains enough hardcore religious and right-wing supporters that he can’t be ignored as a candidate.
An April poll from Mason-Dixon found Moore would have an early lead in the GOP primary field, though at 27% support with near-universal name identification he might have a hard time winning both a primary and a primary runoff election. That same poll found nearly as many GOP primary voters had a negative opinion of him (29%) as a positive one (34%). That poll also didn’t include all the candidates likely to run — including Tuberville, who’s well-known in a state whose semi-official religion is college football.
If he somehow wins the primary, there’s no guarantee Moore will lose in a rematch with Jones, who prevailed by just 22,000 votes in a low-turnout December 2017 election. The race could turn out in a presidential year.
Moore may not be the favorite to win the GOP primary this time. But that doesn’t mean local Republicans aren’t nervous.
When reached via text message to see how they felt about Moore running again, one senior Republican simply replied: “😳”.
Cover image: Republican Senatorial candidate Roy Moore departs on his horse, Sassy, at the polling station after voting in Gallant, AL, on December 12, 2017 (Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)