WASHINGTON ― Even as Roy Moore’s campaign for Senate in Alabama has been rocked by allegations of sexual misconduct against him, many of the candidate’s most fervent supporters aren’t ready to abandon ship.
Moore's wife on Sunday recirculated part of an August letter from over 50 pastors endorsing the candidate and declaring their support for his campaign.
“Roy Moore has been an immovable rock in the culture wars,” the letter, posted on Facebook and later published on AL.com, read. It called Moore “a bold defender of the ‘little guy,’ a just judge to those who came before his court, a warrior for the unborn child, defender of the sanctity of marriage, and a champion for religious liberty.”
In separate phone interviews with HuffPost, several of those pastors voiced suspicion at the timing of the accusations against the 70-year-old Moore, suggesting that the charges levied against him were politically motivated.
Most of the comments came before Beverly Young Nelson on Monday afternoon became the latest woman to level charges against Moore, alleging he sexually assaulted her in 1977 when she was a teen and he was more than a decade older. But the tenor of the remarks from Moore’s backers indicated they’ll stick with him.
Frank Raddish, pastor at the Capitol Hill Independent Baptist Ministries, a nationally focused group, expressed skepticism that Nancy Wells, the mother of a woman who accused Moore of sexually assaulting her decades ago when she was 14 years old, didn’t seek redress for her daughter sooner.
“If the mother was so concerned for her daughter and what had happened, you would be at the police’s door that day or the next day when they found out, or the daughter would,” Raddish told HuffPost.
He said congressional Republicans who have been critical of Moore ― such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona ― are playing up the news to discredit a candidate they have opposed from the start.
“The overseer of this Democrat plantation is John McCain,” Raddish said. “These other Republicans are the political field hands picking cotton on the Democrat plantation. They do not want a very principled, convicted man to be up there in the U.S. Senate.
Other signatories to the letter also doubted the validity of the charges and accused congressional Republicans of stirring up controversy.
“I would have to sit back and wonder why it’s been 38 years since something like that came out,” said Pastor Bruce Word of the Freedom Church in Gadsden, Alabama, referring to the allegations by Wells’ daughter, Leigh Corfman.
“Any time any one is abused or any female goes through anything like that, that’s a tragedy,” Word said. But he added: “I believe regardless that whoever the person is, they are innocent until proven guilty.”
Paul Hubbard of the Lakeview Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, said he thinks McConnell should himself step down for allegedly betraying his conservative constituents.
“I believe the accusations that have come out are false,” said Hubbard. “Some of the people in Washington are so quick to jump and accuse are accused of much worse than Judge Moore.”
Nelson, in a press conference in New York, accused Moore of sexually assaulting her when she was 16.
She said Moore offered her a ride home from her job as a waitress, only to drive her to a remote location where he proceeded to assault her. “I thought that he was going to rape me,” Nelson said.
“He looked at me, and he told me, ‘You’re just a child,’” Nelson alleged, “and he said, ‘I am the district attorney of Etowah County, and if you tell anyone about this, no one will ever believe you.’”
Even before Nelson’s press conference, more GOP officials distanced themselves from Moore’s campaign.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called on Moore to withdraw from the race, telling reporters he believed the previous accusations of sexual misconduct. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, went further, saying the Senate ought to vote to expel Moore if he wins the Dec. 12 election for the seat Jeff Sessions vacated to become President Donald Trump’s attorney general.
But a number of people who have donated to Moore’s campaign scoffed at top GOP officials for meddling in Cotton State politics.
“They don’t know what’s going on in the state of Alabama,” Betty Bostwick, an 88-year-old retiree from Birmingham, told HuffPost in a phone interview. “For them to be doing what they’re doing today is absolutely absurd.”
Bruce Register, 87, a retiree from Dothan, Ala, said that spiritually, the whole controversy was moot.
“I really don’t think someone of his character would have done that. And if he had done it, it doesn’t matter in God’s eyes because he’d have been forgiven,” Register said.
National Republican leaders are exploring the possibility of a last minute write-in campaign for another GOP candidate. McConnell, during a press conference in Louisville, Kentucky, on Monday, declined to say if that candidate would be Luther Strange, who was appointed to the seat earlier this year but lost the GOP primary to Moore.
“We’ll see,” McConnell responded.
Moore’s name will still appear on the ballot as required by state law even if another candidate emerges this late in the race. The possibility of two GOP candidates in the general election could split the state’s conservative electorate enough to send the Democratic nominee, Doug Jones, to Washington.
“Enough of Luther Strange,” said Bobby Snellgrove, a 74-year-old retiree from Dothan who donated to Moore’s campaign in September. “I don’t want him there. If they do go write-in, we’ll end up with Jones as a [senator].”
One of the pastors who signed the letter backing Moore, Bill Snow of Edgewood Church in Anniston, Alabama, told HuffPost he isn’t yet ready to believe the charges against the candidate, but wouldn’t dismiss them out of hand.
“Until it’s proven, I suspect I’ll continue to support Judge Moore,” Snow said. “If it’s proven, then I’ll change my support.”
Moore donor Susie Shelton, 49, of Gurley, Alabama, said she was “waiting for more information to come out” about the story before deciding whether to continue to support him.
“There’s been so many false stories. I can’t trust a lot of the general media. I prefer to make an educated decision,” she said. “I’m not going to believe The Washington Post [which last week first reported the allegations against Moore]. I definitely do not want Doug Jones to win, he would not represent my views.”
This story has been updated to clarify the origins of the endorsement letter.