MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Standing on the white marble steps of Alabama's Capitol, Kayla Moore surrounded herself with two dozen other women Friday to defend husband Roy Moore against accusations of sexual misconduct that are dividing Republicans, and women in particular.
"He will not step down. He will not stop fighting for the people of Alabama," Kayla Moore said at a "Women for Moore" rally. Acting as her husband's lead defender, she lashed out at the news media and thanked people who were sticking behind her husband. "To the people of Alabama, thank you for being smarter than they think you are," Moore said.
Not everyone is sticking with Roy Moore, however, and certainly not all women.
"I was going to vote for him. I was going to be one of his voters. I just don't know that I can vote for him anymore," said Laura Payne, a Trump delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention.
Since last week, Moore has been engulfed by accusations of sexual misconduct toward women in their teens when he was a deputy district attorney in her 30s. Several of his accusers have allowed their identities to be made public.
One said Moore tried to initiate a sexual encounter with her when she was 14. Another said Moore assaulted her when she was a 16-year-old waitress after he offered to drive her home. Five others said Moore pursued romantic relationships with them when they were between the ages of 16 and 18.
"I have not found any reason not to believe them .... They risked a whole lot to come forward," Payne said of the accusers.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said she also has no reason to disbelieve the women but will vote for Moore anyway to help maintain GOP control of the Senate.
Moore has ignored mounting calls from Washington Republicans concerned that if he stays in the race against Democrat Doug Jones he may not only lose a seat they were sure to win but also may do significant damage to the party's brand among women nationwide as they prepared for a difficult midterm election season.
The Alabama GOP, meanwhile, reaffirmed its support for Moore on Thursday.
Jones told reporters Thursday night in Birmingham it was "really unfortunate" that state GOP leaders had chosen to discount the allegations of women and stick with Moore.
"One of the problems in this state is that people continue to put a political party above what is in the best interest of the state and what's in the best interest of the country," he said.
The accusations sent a shockwave through the Senate race in Alabama, where Republicans typically have a lock on statewide election. Democrats already hoped to stand a chance against the polarizing jurist who was twice removed from chief justice duties because of defying court orders regarding the Ten Commandments and gay marriage.
A Fox News poll released Thursday, a week after the first accusations, showed Jones leading Moore by eight points. Support from women was helping to give Jones the edge with 68
One of them is longtime Republican Tracy James, who worked for former senator and current U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Her cousin was a Republican governor. She won't vote for Moore, a decision she made before the election.
"My hope is that the Moore debacle will not only be a wake-up call for evangelicals, but also for Republicans, who should stand back and say, 'Wow, look at the kind of person we almost elected to our ranks," James said.
Kayla Moore says her husband is exactly the kind of person who needs to be in the Senate.
Decades ago, then known by her maiden name, Kayla Kisor, she was performing in a hometown dance recital when she first caught Roy Moore's eye. As he wrote in his 2009 autobiography: Seeing her was something he never forgot.
"Years later," Moore wrote, when she was 23 — she's 14 years his junior— he finally met her. They wed in 1985.
Now, Kayla Moore is doing more than standing by her husband — she's his most aggressive defender against allegations threatening his Republican bid for U.S. Senate.
When Moore makes a public appearance, Kayla Moore is there. When something pops up on social media that could help her husband's cause, she shares it on Facebook. And she was the star at the Statehouse rally in Montgomery.
Speakers there said the allegations against Moore were out of character for the man they have known for years.
"I do not recognize the man these ladies are describing," Ann Eubank, a fixture in Alabama Republican politics, said of the accusers.
Across the street from the rally, Rose Falvey, 25, held a "Moore is a pedophile," a reference to the 14-year-old accuser.
Falvey, who runs an LGBT community
"I think it's really hypocritical and an embarrassment for the state of Alabama, and he's dragging us backwards," Falvey said.
Associated Press writers Steve Peoples and Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama, and Zeke Miller and Catherine Lucey in Washington contributed to this report.