Local Republicans — at least those who spoke on record — were largely measured in their early reaction to a report Thursday in which a woman alleged Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore initiated a sexual encounter with her in the late 1970s, when she was 14 years old.
Cullman County Republican Party Chairman Waid Harbison said it’s simply too early to tell whether the report is based on facts, or turns out to be a hit piece emanating from Moore’s political opponents — either inside his own party or from across the aisle.
Moore faces former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones in the Dec. 12 special election to fill the Senate seat vacated by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“Of course, we, as a party, have not come out with an official statement, but I’d say that the Cullman County Republican Party — and I’m a member of the state executive committee as well — I’m sure we would ask him to step aside if any of this really is true,” Harbison said Thursday.
“I think, without really getting some evidence and getting to the bottom of this, it’s a bit too early. I’ve seen (Senate Majority Leader Mitch) McConnell; (Republican Utah Sen.) Mike Lee calling on him today to step down — and that’s what we’d want him to do too, if this is true.
“I don’t want to say it’s a setup by the Democratic Party, or by anyone else, but there’s always the possibility that somebody might not want him to succeed. That’s often the case in a heavily-contested election like this, when somebody — not even necessarily somebody who supports Doug Jones specifically — could be behind something like this.”
House Rep. Randall Shedd (R-Fairview) said allegations shouldn’t be confused with evidence, and that he’s reserving judgment on what to advise his fellow Republicans until he’s learned more.
“I really haven’t seen a lot about it yet, but from what little I do know, anybody can be accused of anything at any time,” he said. “Unfortunately, that’s the world we live in. I’m not ready to jump off the bandwagon at this point, based on what I know — or don’t know.”
House Rep. Corey Harbison (R-Good Hope) said he’d had little chance to delve into the allegations against Moore.
“I’m sorry, but I’ve been at Veterans Day events most of the day today (Thursday), and I haven’t had time to see any details,” Harbison said. “It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment on it, one way or the other, until I’ve learned more than I know right now.”
A voice mail left with State Sen. Paul Bussman (R-Cullman) was not returned.
Longtime Cullman County Republican Party member Ken Brown supported Moore’s opponent, outgoing U.S. Sen. Luther Strange, in the GOP primary. Asked about the allegations against Moore, Brown said he had no comment on the matter.
“I don’t know any more than anyone else,” he said. “We’re just going to have to see how it plays out.”
The timing of the fresh accusation proved thorny for Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry, who already was attempting to correct what his office characterized as an erroneous claim from the Moore campaign that Gentry had endorsed Moore’s candidacy just a day earlier.
Gentry’s name was included in a list of 13 Alabama sheriffs the Moore camp said had endorsed his Senate bid.
However, Gentry told The Times Thursday he had not endorsed Moore, and that the campaign released “inaccurate information” with its initial list on Wednesday.
“I was never asked to endorse Roy Moore. That was inaccurate information put out by his campaign. I do not get involved in other people’s political campaigns,” Gentry said.
Moore’s campaign communications director confirmed the mistake in including Gentry on the list of endorsements in a phone call to The Times Thursday evening.
Shelby County Sheriff John Samaniego told WBRC he hadn’t endorsed Moore either, despite being included on the same list.
According to WBRC, Samaniego said someone from the Moore campaign reached out to him about the Sheriff’s Association meeting at which Moore appeared this week, but never asked for, nor received, Samaniego’s endorsement.
Moore had joined sheriffs for a press conference Wednesday in which he thanked them for their endorsements, mentioning his law enforcement background as a military police company commander in Vietnam and a deputy district attorney.
Tiffeny Owens contributed to this story.