Republicans in Washington went to war Monday with Roy Moore, their party’s Senate nominee in Alabama, in the latest instance of going to the verge of blowing a winnable Senate seat.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said he believes the women who have made accusations of inappropriate sexual advances against Mr. Moore, a former state chief justice and the Republican nominee facing a Dec. 12 special election. Mr. McConnell said Mr. Moore needs to quit his race against Democrat Doug Jones.
The Republicans’ Senate campaign chief, Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, went further, saying if Mr. Moore wins his election, the chamber should move to expel him.
“I believe the individuals speaking out against Roy Moore spoke with courage and truth, proving he is unfit to serve in the United States Senate, and he should not run for office,” said Mr. Gardner, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “If he refuses to withdraw and wins, the Senate should vote to expel him, because he does not meet the ethical and moral requirements of the United States Senate.”
Mr. Moore says he is sticking out the election and denies that he sought out relationships with teenage girls while he was a lawyer in his 30s. He said the problem is the Republican leadership in Washington.
It’s a frustrating scenario for a party that fears losing a rock-solid Republican seat — particularly after a series of other races have slipped away in recent years.
Senate Republicans have squandered races they thought were in the win column with candidates including Christine O’Donnell, the 2010 nominee in Delaware who went on television to proclaim, “I’m not a witch,” and Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, the party’s 2012 nominees in Missouri and Indiana who stumbled into the “legitimate rape” controversy.
“Virtually any warm body with an R next to their name should be a shoo-in in Alabama, and somehow the one candidate who puts that seat in doubt is still on the ballot there,” said Kevin Sheridan, a Republican Party strategist. “We’ve seen unelectable candidates before, and it’s the reason we had six more years of an easily beatable Harry Reid, Claire McCaskill and a handful of other Democrats who never should have kept their seats in 2010.”
Had Republicans won the Delaware, Missouri and Indiana races, they could have a 55-45 edge in the Senate right now. Instead, they are at 52-48 and staring down the barrel of a 51-49 edge should they lose in Alabama.
That margin could make all the difference as Republicans prepare to tackle tax reform before the end of this year, then turn once again to Obamacare early next year.
“If Republicans had won Missouri and Indiana, they would have a larger majority and more margin for passing big pieces of legislation,” said Nathan Gonzales, editor of Inside Elections, a nonpartisan campaign tracker. “Elections to the U.S. Senate have repercussions for at least six years. It is not just a fleeting issue.”
Both parties have had nomination stumbles, but Republicans have suffered more from them in recent years.
In Delaware, Ms. O’Donnell managed to defeat Rep. Mike Castle for the Republican Senate nod in 2010, then went on to lose a seat that analysts said Mr. Castle would have won.
Democrats in Missouri ran ads boosting Mr. Akin to make sure he was Sen. Claire McCaskill’s opponent in 2012. Mr. Akin went on to question whether women could get pregnant from “legitimate rape,” dooming his chance.
In Indiana, Mr. Mourdock got snared by the same rape controversy and delivered the state’s Senate seat that year to Sen. Joe Donnelly, a Democrat who is up for re-election next year.
Darrell M. West, vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, said Democrats generally have nominated far-left candidates in liberal states where they can survive stumbles.
He said the Republican base, meanwhile, has moved to the right, enabling ultraconservative candidates to win primary races only to face difficulties appealing to a broader audience in the general election.
“That has resulted in the party losing seats they should have won,” Mr. West said. “This tells us that Republicans have to be very careful not to shoot themselves in the foot.”
Mr. Moore was never favored by the Republican establishment, which, along with President Trump, backed Luther Strange in the primary race. Mr. Moore triumphed, though, with the backing of Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist.
Republican divisions in the race intensified after a report in The Washington Post last week relaying stories of four women who said Mr. Moore sought relationships with them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.
Another woman came forward Monday saying he sexually assaulted her when she was a minor.
A tearful Beverly Young Nelson said Mr. Moore choked her and tried to rip off her shirt in his car after offering her a ride home in the late 1970s, when she was 16.
“I thought that he was going to rape me,” she said, denying any political motive and noting that she and her husband both supported Donald Trump for president.
At a Monday evening news conference in Alabama, with his wife at his side, Mr. Moore called the charges a “political maneuver.”
“I can tell you without hesitation this is absolutely false. I never did what she said I did. I don’t even know the woman,” he said.
Top party leaders have denounced Mr. Moore.
“I believe the women,” Mr. McConnell told reporters Monday.
John Couvillon, of JMC Analytics and Polling, said the next week will be critical to Mr. Moore’s chances of winning the race.
“Akin and Mourdouck failed to establish a counternarrative quickly, and they allowed themselves to be defined,” Mr. Couvillon said. “I would make the argument to you that this week is the most important week of the campaign for the reason being while those allegations are fresh Moore has to establish a counternarrative.”
The survey found that 38 percent of respondents were less likely to vote for Mr. Moore after the accusations of sexual misconduct involving underage women.
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