For Republicans in upscale Alabama suburbs, Roy Moore presents a conundrum

Roy Moore, the 70-year-old former chief justice of Alabama, was not Ellen Tipton’s ideal candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Yet the longtime Republican and Trump supporter had reconciled herself to voting for the firebrand conservative — until women began accusing him of sexual assault and unwanted overtures when they were teens.

“All of those women are not lying,” the 55-year-old executive assistant said as she ran errands this week at a variety store in Mountain Brook, a longtime Republican stronghold south of Birmingham. “He’s an embarrassment to Alabama.”

Moore has steadfastly denied the allegations, which have turned next month’s contest against Democrat Doug Jones from a runaway GOP victory into a tossup.

“I just can’t believe we’re down to this,” Tipton said. “I’m torn between voting for a pedophile and voting for a person who believes in abortion.”

Moore has long been admired by evangelical Christians for his defiant stance on the Ten Commandments — he insisted on placing a biblically inspired monument in the state Judicial Building in violation of a court order — and refusal to recognize same-sex marriage. His positions led to his ouster as chief state Supreme Court justice in 2003, and again last year after voters reinstalled him.

The less religiously inspired suburban Republicans have long been appalled by the idea of such an extreme social conservative being their voice in the Senate.

Even before the sexual misconduct allegations surfaced, campaign signs touting Moore were rare in Mountain Brook, a leafy area of Tudor-style mansions that boasts the state’s richest ZIP code. Residents are wary of both Moore’s long trail of controversy as chief justice and his incendiary comments that Muslims should be barred from Congress and homosexuality should be outlawed.

“I don’t have any sense that Roy Moore sides with the Republican agenda,” said Bill Martin, 68, a retired private industry executive from Mountain Brook who voted for President Trump last year. “I just think he is radical and beyond anything I could support.”

Republican antipathy toward Moore in the upscale suburbs has only strengthened since a flurry of women stepped forward in the last week to accuse him of pursuing them when he was in his 30s and they were in their teens.

One woman said she was 14 when Moore sexually touched her after the two stripped to their underwear. Another said that when she was 16, Moore was giving her a ride home when he stopped the car, grabbed her breasts and tried to shove her face into his crotch, leaving her neck covered with bruises.

“While Trump had no problem carrying Alabama, I think Roy Moore has crossed a line, and even Republicans who reluctantly voted for Trump see this differently,” said Richard Fording, a political science professor at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. “It’s hard to deny that he’s creepy.”

It has been more than 20 years since a Democrat won a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama, one of the nation’s most culturally conservative states, and some are determined to see that continue after the Dec. 12 vote.

“I’m loyal to my party,” said Rutherford Yates, 25, a beer and wine salesman who plans to vote for Moore and dismissed the charges of sexual misconduct as “a bunch of lies.”

With Democrats greatly outnumbered, Jones — a former U.S. attorney who prosecuted the men responsible for the infamous bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church — needs a healthy number of Republican votes to prevail. His strong record as a prosecutor may help some, but his support for legal abortion puts him at odds with many Alabamans.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Martin said, admitting he was torn between abstaining and voting for Jones. “Doug Jones is a good man who has done good things for our state, but I don’t want to add a Democrat to the Senate.”

While some consider the wave of allegations about Moore’s pursuit of young women beyond the pale, others say they never considered supporting him.

“Voting for someone to create laws who blatantly disobeys laws, I don’t think so,” said Katherine Taylor, a stay-at-home mom from nearby Vestavia Hills. Once the president of a Young Republicans group in college, she said she has no qualms about voting for Jones.

“I used to be a die-hard Republican, but I don’t claim them anymore,” she said. “I think the Republican Party has been hijacked by Donald Trump.”

Others expressed broader disappointment with the Republican Party, saying it has become too extreme and divisive and lost its grip on its values.

“How can anyone who calls themselves a conservative vote for anyone as radical as Roy Moore?” said Tracy James, 44, a freelance fashion consultant who comes from a long line of Alabama conservatives. Her late father was a Republican judge, her cousin is former Alabama Gov. Fob James and her uncle serves as a conservative justice on the Alabama Supreme Court.

James worked for a number of Republican candidates after college and still considers herself a member of the party, but said she will vote for Jones.

“I don’t want to see the Republican Party stolen by the fanatics of the religious right,” said James. “I don’t even consider Roy Moore a Republican. He’s a theocrat disguised in Republican clothing.”

The state GOP pledged its continued support for Moore on Thursday. Over the last week, however, leaders of the national Republican Party have urged Moore to bow out of the race, even threatening to expel him from the Senate if he wins.

Alabama’s senior senator, Richard C. Shelby, said he would write in the name of another candidate on his ballot.

Still, Tipton is hopeful that Moore will ultimately stand aside, or somehow be replaced as the GOP candidate, so Republicans can hang onto the seat and preserve their 52-48 margin in the Senate.

She has no intention of abstaining. As she sees it, she can either vote for Jones, or vote for Moore in the hope that, if elected, he’s swiftly expelled from the Senate.

“As the 12th nears,” she said, “I just pray for a resolution.”

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