DENVER – Sen. Cory Gardner, the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Wednesday that Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for Alabama’s U.S. Senate seat, should drop out of the special election if the allegations he had a sexual relationship with a teen girl are true.
The Washington Post broke the story Wednesday that in 1979, Moore—then a 32-year-old district attorney—had a sexual encounter with a girl who was 14 years old at the time.
The Post reported that after meeting the girl one day, Moore picked her up days later, took her to a wooded area, kissed her, removed his clothes, and touched her inappropriately.
Three other women told The Post Moore had pursued them while he was in his 30s and they were between 16 and 18 years old, though they said no sexual contact occurred.
Moore denied the allegations, calling them “completely false” and a “desperate political attack” by the Democratic Party and Washington Post. His campaign said the report was “the very definition of fake news and intentional defamation.”
But Colorado's Gardner, who as chairman of the NRSC is in charge of helping elect and re-elect Republicans to the U.S. Senate, appeared to be taking the report seriously.
“The allegations against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore are deeply troubling,” Gardner said in a prepared statement. “If these allegations are found to be true, Roy Moore must drop out of the Alabama special Senate election.”
Gardner, as the NRSC chair, endorsed Moore in late September after he defeated Sen. Luther Strange, whom President Trump had publicly supported, in the special primary.
“Roy Moore will be imperative to passing a conservative agenda, and we support him in keeping this seat in Republican hands,” Gardner said in a statement at the time, saying the NRSC’s focus “is always on keeping a strong Republican majority in the Senate.”
Moore has been under fire since he was announced as the challenger to Strange. He has in the past called homosexuality “a crime against nature,” has questioned whether President Obama was born in America, and has said that he didn’t think Muslims should serve in Congress.
Despite Gardner’s statement Thursday, Alabama’s Secretary of State’s Office said Thursday that his name can’t be removed for the ballot even if he were to drop out of the race.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also, however, said that Moore should “step aside” if the allegations are true.
Other top Senate Republicans—John Cornyn of Texas, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania agreed, with Cornyn calling the report “deeply troubling.”
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said Moore should step aside without saying further investigation was necessary.
"The allegations against Roy Moore are deeply disturbing and disqualifying," McCain said in a tweet. "He should immediately step aside and allow the people of Alabama to elect a candidate they can be proud of."
But Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler came to Moore's defense.
"Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus. there's just nothing immoral or illegal here," Zeigler told the Washington Examiner.
Moore faces Democrat Doug Jones in the special election on Dec. 12.