U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran on Tuesday joined at least 13 other Republican senators calling for Alabama GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore to drop out of his race over allegations of past sexual assault and pursuing teen girls when he was in his 30s.
But Sen. Roger Wicker and his potential Republican challenger next year, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, were more measured in their comments about Moore. Both questioned why accusers are coming forward decades later.
Cochran, in a statement, said: “I condemn harassment in any form. The disturbing behavior in the allegations involving Judge Moore is alarming. It seems continuing his candidacy may not be in the best interest of his state or the U.S. Senate.”
Cochran had not publicly endorsed Moore, a controversial former Alabama state Supreme Court justice who faces Democrat Doug Jones in a special election to fill the seat held by Sen. Luther Strange. Former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley appointed Strange in February after Jeff Sessions left the Senate to become attorney general for the Trump Administration.
Wicker, in a statement, said: “I don’t know what the facts are. I do know that the charges are very, very serious and if they’re true, he should do the right thing. But they’re very, very old charges. You have to ask and I think people in Alabama will be asking why this hasn’t come out in the 40 years’ time with him running for so many offices.”
McDaniel on Tuesday said: “The allegations are troubling, no question about that, and they have to be taken seriously. And yet, at the same time, they are just allegations, and in this country you are presumed innocent until proven guilty ...
“I’m like most Americans, watching this unfold and develop. If they’re true, it is certainly problematic, but I don’t want to just speculate. Allegations from several decades ago don’t automatically translate into fact. In politics, this type of thing has become known as an October surprise ... The timing of this coming out is certainly interesting to say the least.”
Wicker and McDaniel, whom politicos speculate might square off in an internecine GOP battle next year in a state at least as red as neighboring Alabama, both endorsed Moore. And both appear reluctant to totally disavow him.
Wicker recently attended a fundraiser in Washington, D.C., for Moore and donated to his campaign, saying earlier this month, “He is our Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Alabama, and I’m glad to support him, contribute to his campaign and help see that he is elected.”
McDaniel also endorsed Moore and has said they share an anti-establishment kindred spirit. They also share a majordomo, former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, who helped Moore’s campaign and has been urging McDaniel to challenge Wicker.
In a column after Moore won the Republican nomination in Alabama, McDaniel wrote: “Roy Moore’s defeat of Team McConnell makes our rallying cry, ‘Remember Mississippi’ echo even louder ... I look forward to Senator Moore representing the good people of Alabama.”
On Monday, a fifth accuser came forward and said Moore pursued her when she was 16 and he was a county prosecutor in his 30s. She said he assaulted her in his car. Four other women said Moore pursued them back when they ranged in age from 14-18, one saying Moore sexually molested her when she was 14.