Moore announced his 2020 campaign Thursday. He previously lost a bid for the Senate seat in a 2017 special election to Democrat Doug Jones. But GOP leaders, including President Donald Trump, warn the Republican Party risks throwing away its chance to flip the seat next year because of the several sexual assault accusations against Moore.
“We’ll be opposing Roy Moore vigorously,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told NBC News.
Multiple women accused Moore in 2017 of sexually assaulting them when they were teenagers. One of them, Beverly Nelson, said Moore groped her and tried to get her to perform oral sex on him when she was 16 and he was in his 30s.
Moore has denied any wrongdoing and said Thursday that the accusations had “very little” to do with his loss two years ago. But the allegations lost him support from major GOP leaders, who now plan to further distance themselves from him before he potentially loses the seat for them again.
“Give me a break. This place has enough creepy old men,” Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) told Politico of Washington when asked about Moore’s announcement.
The Senate Leadership Fund, which is backed by McConnell, released a statement denouncing Moore after his announcement.
“We believe most Alabama Republicans realize that nominating Roy Moore would be gift wrapping this Senate seat for Chuck Schumer,” spokesman Jack Pandol said in a statement, referring to the Senate minority leader. “It remains to be seen whether Moore can escape his baggage without his candidacy collapsing under its own weight, regardless of what groups on the outside do.”
Trump last month tried to discourage Moore from entering the race, tweeting that the former Alabama chief justice “cannot win” in the Senate and will cost Republicans in what used to be considered a safely red state.
Moore’s candidacy would mean the “incredible gains that we have made during my Presidency may be lost,” Trump tweeted, adding that he had “NOTHING against” Moore and “wanted him to win” in 2017.
Moore responded to Trump’s opposition on Thursday by saying the president is “being pushed” by the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville and Alabama state Rep. Arnold Mooney (R) have already announced their bids for the Senate seat. According to Politico, Republicans are also working to recruit former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to run for the seat, which he held until leaving to serve in Trump’s administration.
The crowded race makes Jones one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents this campaign cycle. Democrats need to pick up at least three seats in 2020 to gain control of the Senate.