Roy Moore’s Senate campaign quickly seized on President Donald Trump’s apparent support for the embattled Alabama GOP nominee, parroting Trump’s attacks on Moore’s Democratic rival while trying to put the sexual misconduct allegations that have dominated the race in recent weeks on the back-burner.
But Democrat Doug Jones on Wednesday swung back, posting a web video featuring the names and photos of Moore’s then-teenage accusers and asking, “We will make their abuser a U.S. senator?”
Moore got a boost from the president when Trump cast doubt on the accusations by a number of women who said that Moore, when he was in his 30s, sexually assaulted or molested them. Others said Moore also pursued them romantically as teenagers. But Trump, who had long been silent on the accusations, sounded skeptical Tuesday, saying that “40 years is a long time” since the alleged incidents and suggesting that he believed Moore’s denials.
Trump’s comments offered cover for Republicans who may have been wavering about voting for Moore. The comments also offered the former Alabama Supreme Court justice a prime opening to bash Jones, a former U.S. attorney. In the same set of comments to reporters, the president also knocked Jones as “bad on crime, bad on borders, bad with the military.”
Moore’s campaign pounced on those remarks instantly. One email sent Tuesday to supporters included just a YouTube video of Trump’s remarks and a transcription. The subject line read, “Donald Trump Blasts Liberal Democrat Doug Jones.” A second email — headlined “Moore campaign says ‘Mexico First’ policies of Doug Jones put Americans at Risk” — criticized Jones on border security and immigration.
Moore has mostly avoided attacking Jones during the campaign. But Alabama Republicans argued that Trump’s comments were a boon for Moore and a chance to go on offense against the Democrat.
“President Trump’s support signals a big boost for Judge Moore. Outside groups or individuals who were on the fence or sitting out should become re-engaged just a few weeks before the general election,” said David Ferguson, a veteran GOP strategist and native Alabamian. “A Republican victory guarantees that a majority in the Senate is maintained, and if Roy Moore has definitely done wrong and resigns in the future, then it ensures the governor will be able to choose a Republican to replace him.”
The GOP offensive comes as Jones looks to woo Alabama Republicans uncomfortable with Moore.
On Wednesday, Jones’ campaign posted a new 30-second video scrolling through the women who “were girls when Roy Moore immorally pursued them.” Jones is promoting the ad online, but it’s unclear whether it will run on television.
Jones’ recent TV ads have attempted to burnish his bipartisan credentials. One notes that he was confirmed as a U.S. attorney by a Senate that included both Sen. Richard Shelby and now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Another ad by the campaign quotes prominent Republicans — Ivanka Trump, Shelby and Sessions — separately saying they have no reason to doubt Moore’s accusers. A pro-Jones super PAC, Highway 31, is touting Jones’ support for gun rights and his Christian faith in an ad that began airing on Wednesday.
The Jones campaign has been dominating Moore in ad spending, and recent polls have shown either a tight race — an unusual situation for deep-red Alabama — or Jones with a lead. A Republican pollster leaked a survey Wednesday he said he conducted “at the request of several major [super PAC] donors” to the pro-Moore website Breitbart News that showed Moore with a slight advantage.
Another Republican pollster who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record about the race conceded that Trump’s comments do help Moore. But the pollster also cautioned, “We’ll have to see what polling next week looks like to confirm.”
The Moore campaign on Wednesday also confirmed that John Rogers, who had been serving as communications director for the campaign, had resigned. “As we all know, campaigns make changes throughout the duration of the campaign, as do those working in the campaign,” said Moore campaign chairman Bill Armistead. “John made the decision to leave the campaign last Friday — any representations to the contrary are false — and we wish him well.”
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