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Roy Moore will run for Senate again

Figures at every level of the Republican party, including the president, had urged Roy Moore to forgo another run. | Brynn Anderson/AP Photo

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Roy Moore, the controversial Republican judge who lost a 2017 Senate race in deep-red Alabama amid allegations of sexual misconduct with young girls decades ago, is defying GOP opposition and running again in 2020, he announced Thursday.

“I will run for the United States Senate in 2020,” Moore said this afternoon at an event in Montgomery, Ala. “Can I win? Yes, I can win. Not only can I, but they know I can. That’s why there’s such opposition.”

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Republicans fear Moore’s candidacy could be a major roadblock in the GOP’s path to retaking a critical Senate seat. Figures at every level of the party, including President Donald Trump, had urged Moore to forgo another run, fearing that he would be the only candidate who would lose to Democratic Sen. Doug Jones.

But Moore was defiant on Thursday, calling out by name leadership and staff at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, as well as top advisers and allies of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“Why is there such a fear? Why is there such anger? Why such a hatred and opposition to somebody running?” Moore said. “Why does mere mention of my name cause people to get up in arms in Washington, D.C.?”

Moore’s political career has been riddled with controversy: He has twice been removed from the state Supreme Court for ethical violations. In his election to the state Supreme Court in 2012, he ran behind presidential nominee Mitt Romney by nearly 10 percentage points.

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But he remained popular in some conservative circles until the 2017 race — when, after winning the GOP nomination over appointed Sen. Luther Strange — Moore faced allegations of past inappropriate sexual behavior with young girls.

Alabama is Republicans’ best offensive opportunity on the Senate map next year, and a victory there would bolster their chances of maintaining a majority in the chamber in 2020. But the primary is crowded, and no clear front-runner has emerged — leaving room for Moore to ride a bloc of far-right votes into a primary runoff.

Many Republicans doubt that Moore will be able to recapture the support that helped deliver his primary victory two years ago. Strange was tainted by association with former Gov. Robert Bentley, who faced an infidelity scandal at the time he appointed Strange to the seat. Outside conservative forces rallied behind Moore, a situation that is unlikely to repeat itself with Trump already opposing him. Republican leaders have vowed to fight Moore at every turn.

“We believe most Alabama Republicans realize that nominating Roy Moore would be gift wrapping this Senate seat for Chuck Schumer,” said Jack Pandol, a spokesperson for Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with McConnell. “It remains to be seen whether Moore can escape his baggage without his candidacy collapsing under its own weight, regardless of what groups on the outside do.”

Jones, in a statement hours after Moore’s announcement, tried to frame the GOP primary race as a contest between Moore and the Republican establishment — underscoring the tightrope he’s seeking to walk in order to win a second election in Alabama.

“Today, Roy Moore has made what was already going to be a divisive Republican primary even more polarizing and extreme,” he said. “We don’t need any more of that. Worse, it’s now clear that my opponent will either be an extremist like Roy Moore or someone handpicked by Mitch McConnell to be his senator, not Alabama’s. The only question left is who will be McConnell’s choice?”

Republicans have yet to rally behind another candidate, and the primary is likely to get more crowded. Former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville, Rep. Bradley Byrne and state Rep. Arnold Mooney are already running, and Secretary of State John Merrill filed paperwork with the Federal Election Committee this week to join the race. Sen. Richard Shelby told the Washington Post earlier this week that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions had not ruled out running for his old seat.

The field appears relatively wide open. In a recent internal poll conducted by Tuberville’s campaign, the former coach led with 23 percent of the vote, trailed closely by Moore at 18 percent and Byrne at 16 percent. More than a third of other voters picked a different candidate or didn’t have a preference.

Trip Skipper, an adviser to Tuberville, called him the “most formidable” candidate in what he described as a “three-person race” between the former coach, Moore and Byrne.

“The consensus is growing that he’s the one guy that can win the nomination, and he’s the one guy that can beat Doug Jones,” Skipper said. “He’s the only guy in the race that can do both. People are hungry for an outsider.”

Byrne entered April with more than $ 2 million in the bank, a substantial sum, and has been rolling out local Alabama endorsements over the past several weeks.

“Bradley is a fighter who has won contested primaries before, and we are ready to win this fight,” said Seth Morrow, Byrne’s campaign manager.

Mooney, who already received endorsements from Senate Conservatives Fund and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), is aiming to edge out Moore’s conservative backing. Jordan Gehrke, an adviser to Mooney, called the representative the only “real conservative” in the race.

“Conservatives have been through this with Judge Moore before — it ends with liberal Doug Jones in the Senate,” Gehrke said.

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