Republican senators spent Thursday afternoon fielding reporters’ questions about whether they stand behind a man who is accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl.
Democratic senators, meanwhile, stepped back and watched the whirlwind consume them.
The Washington Post reported Thursday that four women have said Roy Moore, the GOP’s nominee for senator in Alabama’s special election, sexually pursued them when they were between the ages of 14 and 18 and he was in his 30s.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was one of the only GOP politicians to come out and say, unequivocally, that Moore needs to step aside. Most of his colleagues said that “if” the allegations are true, they would disavow Moore.
All four women in the Post story were on the record, with their names and photographs in the story. The senators did not say what additional proof they need.
Moore called The Washington Post’s story “fake news” and “intentional defamation.”
Some state politicians and conservative pundits defended Moore. They gave him a pass by claiming that the interactions were consensual and that he didn’t do anything but kiss the 14-year-old girl. (The Washington Post, by the way, reported that Moore did far more to Leigh Corfman than kiss her.)
Republicans now face some uncomfortable questions: Do they cut ties with Moore? What does the Republican National Committee do with its joint fundraising agreement with Moore? Do they back a write-in campaign for someone else? And does it all get awkward considering the president has also been accused of sexual assault by a number of women?
Democrats were more than happy Thursday to let Republicans deal with this mess on their own.
The Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee were conspicuously quiet. The campaign of Democrat Doug Jones, Moore’s opponent, put out nothing but a short statement that read: “Roy Moore needs to answer these serious charges.”
The Alabama special election, scheduled for Dec. 12, had already been attracting national attention. Moore was known for being the deeply conservative chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, where he ordered state probate judges to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality.
Over the past few weeks, HuffPost talked to Democrats far from Alabama ― in New York, Washington, D.C. and Alaska ― who all held small-dollar fundraisers for Jones.
“After Hillary Clinton lost, I told myself I’d do anything I can to make sure the right candidates win,” said Betsy Qualls, who is originally from Alabama but now lives in Alaska.
Kindred Motes, an Alabama native who now lives in New York City, said he was shocked when he heard that Moore, a man who had been twice removed from the bench for flouting the law, could be the state’s next senator.
“There’s a real groundswell of support for progressive politics in Alabama. It’s just not being covered, and it’s only happening largely in the major cities ... That struck us all as a place where we can have an impact. We can’t be on the ground there, but it doesn’t mean we’re any less Alabamian,” Motes said.
Democrats acknowledge that even with the new Moore revelations, the race is tough for them in the conservative state. There is still a real chance that Moore will be the next senator.
There remains a significant amount of debate within the party about whether the national committees should get more involved, and whether such activity would help or hurt Jones. Party officials did not immediately jump in and announce a change of strategy on Thursday.
Democratic senators did, however, start to step up some of their fundraising for Jones. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) all sent out or tweeted solicitations for Jones after the scandal broke.
Moore, meanwhile, also sent out an email and used the report that he sexually assaulted a 14-year-old girl to raise money from his supporters.