(Bloomberg) -- Senate candidate Roy Moore and some of his fellow Alabama Republicans remained defiant as a poll showed his support slipping and national party leaders distanced themselves from the former state judge after allegations he initiated a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl almost four decades ago.

Moore has denied the accusations and vowed to "never give up," while using the controversy as part of a fundraising appeal. In a message to supporters on his Facebook page repeating the pitch to donors, Moore said the allegations were an attempt to “silence and shut up Christian conservatives like you and me.”

A poll conducted after the allegations became public by Opinion Savvy, an Atlanta-based organization sponsored by Decision Desk HQ, showed the race tied with Moore at 46.4 percent and Democratic nominee Doug Jones at 46 percent. In late September, the same polling group had Moore up by 5.7 percent. Of the 515 people surveyed Thursday, 82.2 percent said they were aware of the allegations.

Also, paperwork filed with the Federal Election Commission on Friday showed that the Moore campaign and the National Republican Senatorial Committee have cut ties, while the Republican National Committee is still listed on the Moore campaign’s form.

President Donald Trump joined a growing list of top Republicans saying Moore should withdraw from the race if a report is substantiated that he pursued the 14-year-old and three other teenagers when he was in his 30s and a deputy district attorney.

“Like most Americans, the president believes we cannot allow a mere allegation, in this case one from many years ago, to destroy a person’s life," White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters aboard Air Force One Friday as the president traveled to a summit in Vietnam. “However, the president also believes that if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside.”

Race Shaken

The allegations, reported by the Washington Post Thursday, have shaken an already tumultuous Senate campaign, where Moore was the favorite to win over the Democratic candidate in solidly Republican Alabama in an election on Dec. 12. Moore, who was twice removed as chief justice of the state Supreme Court for defying federal court rulings, is on the ballot after defeating a primary opponent supported by Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the rest of the party establishment.

The allegations against Moore come at a time when prominent men in the entertainment industry, business and politics have been accused of multiple acts of sexual misconduct. The wave of accusations was led by reports from The New York Times and The New Yorker detailing accusations of sexual harassment and assault against film executive Harvey Weinstein.

They also presents a dilemma for Republicans trying to keep their majorities in the House and Senate in next year’s congressional elections. Moore’s presence in the Senate would be sure to become a rallying point for Democrats, who drew heavily on support from women to make surprising gains in off-year balloting in Virginia, New Jersey and several other states on Tuesday.

Moore Supporters

Moore has little incentive to heed Republican Party leaders’ calls to step aside after they shunned him in the primary and didn’t embrace him after he won. In Alabama, some of Moore’s fellow Republicans were rallying around him. One, state Representative Ed Henry, said the accusers were prodded by the Democratic Party and may have been paid to make their statements. He even suggested they should be prosecuted, according to a local newspaper, the Cullman Times.

“If they believe this man is predatory, they are guilty of allowing him to exist for 40 years. I think someone should prosecute and go after them. You can’t be a victim 40 years later, in my opinion,” Henry said in an interview, according to the newspaper.

Most of the Republican lawmakers who said Moore should step aside attached the qualifier “if true” to their statements expressing grave concern about the allegations. None defined what standard of proof they would apply in the case.

“I believe if there’s any truth to these allegations at all he needs to step out of this race,” Senator Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, said Friday during a Bloomberg TV interview.


In an interview afterward, Toomey said he hasn’t seen any evidence that would undermine the credibility of the woman who made the allegation in the Post report.

“If there were evidence that suggested that she was being untruthful then it would raise very serious questions about all the allegations, but in the absence it does sound credible,” Toomey said. “It’s been consistent, it’s been corroborated, so that’s the way it looks at the moment.”

The Post story had four women by name recounting how Moore, now 70, pursued them when they were in their teens. None of them said Moore forced himself on them. Their stories, according to the Post, were supported by others who knew them at the time.

Three of the women were ages 16, 17 and 18 when Moore asked them out on dates. The 14-year-old, identified by the Post as Leigh Corfman, said Moore initially approached her outside a courtroom in Etowah County, Alabama, when he was an assistant district attorney. He began a conversation and offered to watch the girl while her mother went into the courtroom for a child custody hearing, the Post said.

Sexual Contact

Corfman told the Post that Moore spent time alone with her. He drove her to his house and kissed her, she told the newspaper. On a second visit, he took off his outer clothes, as well as her shirt and pants, she told the Post. Moore touched her through her bra and underpants and “guided her hand to touch him over his underwear,” according to the Post.

John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican, who had endorsed Moore, called the report “deeply troubling and disturbing.”

Senator Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican who endorsed Moore’s primary opponent Luther Strange, said, “That’s a devastating story. I don’t know anything about the facts or anything, but that’s a nasty story.”

Only Arizona Senator John McCain was unequivocal in his statement that Moore should withdraw.

Moore won the Alabama GOP nomination to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s former Senate seat and is facing Democrat Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney, in December.

Moore currently leads Jones by 6 percentage points, according to an average of statewide polls compiled by Real Clear Politics. Prior to Thursday’s report, Jones was seen as an underdog in a state that gave Donald Trump 62.9 percent of the vote and hasn’t sent a Democrat to the Senate since the 1990s.

In a brief statement, Jones’s campaign said only that “Roy Moore needs to answer these serious charges.”

“It’ll be interesting to see if the Jones campaign can draw a strong contrast,” said David Mowery, a Montgomery, Alabama-based political consultant who has worked with Democrats and Republicans. Mowery said that Jones should aggressively court female voters and hope that Republicans start to rescind their endorsements. But he said he doubted this would end Moore’s campaign.

“Obviously it’s a big deal, but I don’t know right now that it’s a death knell,” he said.

Alabama law doesn’t allow the removal of a name from a ballot so close to the election. But if Moore were to withdraw -- and there was no immediate indication he would -- state law says votes cast for him wouldn’t be certified.

Moore is known outside Alabama mostly for being removed twice as chief justice of the state Supreme Court -- in 2003 for refusing to take down a Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama judicial building, and in 2016 for telling state judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage.

He also has a history of controversial statements, including writing that Muslims like Representative Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat, shouldn’t serve in Congress and that transgender people don’t have rights.

(Updates with poll result, FEC paperwork starting in third paragraph.)

--With assistance from Erik Wasson

To contact the reporters on this story: Arit John in Washington at ajohn34@bloomberg.net, Jordyn Holman in New York at jholman19@bloomberg.net, Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Laurie Asséo

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