In a month, Alabama voters could elect to the U.S. Senate a man who is accused of sexually assaulting a teenager, initiating a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old and pursuing relationships with three other teenagers, all while he was in his 30s.
Alabama is no stranger with sex scandals. In April, their governor, Robert Bentley, resigned and pleaded guilty to charges related to using public resources to conceal an alleged extramarital affair with his former top aides. He came under significant pressure from his party to step down.
What’s so different between the cases of Bentley and Senate hopeful Roy Moore? Why would Alabama voters consider voting for one when they cheered getting rid of the other? To help me understand, I called up Leada Gore, a longtime political reporter for AL.com, Alabama’s largest statewide news organization. Gore helped break the Bentley sex scandal. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
THE FIX: So, help me understand why Alabama had no hesitation getting rid of a governor accused of having an extramarital affair, but they might vote for a Senate candidate accused of sexually assaulting or inappropriately touching teenagers?
GORE: Because there was a Republican waiting in the wings to take over for Bentley. That’s the bottom line. Bentley wasn’t up for reelection; he was term limited. His wife came out against him. That was the end. That did him in. When your sweet, southern grandmother comes out and has recorded you discussing groping your girlfriend, there is not a whole lot around that.
By contrast, this what I heard this weekend: I don’t want to vote for Roy Moore, but Doug Jones is worse. And what they point to when they say that is that Doug Jones is pro choice.
There is a growing awareness of the significance of this seat. And the idea that Alabama, of all places, would contribute toward flipping the seat is just horrifying to Alabama voters. And let me be clear, if these allegations are true, there is not a single person who would stand beside him. They just don’t want to contribute to: Oh my gosh, what if we flipped the Senate? It would be the ultimate irony.
Did the latest allegations by Beverly Young Nelson that Moore tried to force her to have sexual relations with him when she was 16 and he a hotshot attorney change anything?
Last night, I put out on my personal Facebook: “Tell me your thoughts.” Interestingly enough, the people who supported Roy Moore before yesterday still support Roy Moore. The people who don’t still don’t. It changed nothing. Not one single person said ‘Well, I was on the fence but yesterday I made up my mind.”
Now, I will tell you what I do see as a change. I have seen more discussion among the political class and among the general electorate of: How do we not have him as our senator? Is there some sort of political recourse or procedural recourse that could be taken to not have him on the ballot and not have him seated?
I don’t understand. They say they’ll vote for Moore, but they want him off the ballot?
You have to look at it in the sense of: They are still going to vote for Roy Moore over Doug Jones, but please is there a way we could have somebody else? That’s the overall structure of how people are processing this whole situation.
I don’t think anyone was just completely thrilled that Roy Moore or Luther Strange were our nominees. So there was always reservations. I heard a voter say: “Don’t think everyone was pro-Roy Moore before all this happened.”
And I heard another person saying: “Don’t mistake people in Alabama’s support you might see for Roy Moore as supporting Roy Moore, as much as it is NOT supporting the national media.”
Moore keeps bringing up the timing of these allegations to suggest it’s a political conspiracy. Is that resonating with voters?
Yes. It’s not that anybody says Roy Moore is the perfect candidate. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t said: This raises concerns for me. But at the same time, they will follow that with: I have questions. They question, “Why now? Why did this come up now?”
This sounds like the presidential election again.
Yes. It’s the presidential race for most people. They’re like: “Oh no, here we go.” When Roy Moore stood on stage and pulled out the gun, and he was wearing the cowboy hat, and he rides to the polls on a horse, we roll our eyes, too.
So you think Roy Moore will still win election?
If you look at where his numbers come he’s got a lot of support in rural counties, and I’m not sure if that rural vote, which is 99.99 percent of Alabama, would leave him under almost any circumstances — or would leave any conservative candidate. I don’t know what you’d have to do.