President Donald Trump endorsed Senate candidate Roy Moore this week
Even Moore's supporters have struggled to explain why they will vote for him
Roy Moore is forcing Alabama Republicans to ask themselves some tough questions.
Accusations that the Republican nominee for a US Senate seat from Alabama pursued relationships with teenagers, molested a 14-year-old and sexually assaulted a 16-year-old when he was in his 30s have thrown Tuesday’s special election race into chaos.
Republican leadership in Capitol Hill, the Republican National Committee and the White House for a time appeared to dump his candidacy – but now President Donald Trump, as well as party resources, are firmly back behind Moore, a former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, and his supporters predict a win.
“I think we’re going to see Roy Moore win pretty handily in Baldwin County,” local Republican activist Matthew Brown told CNN. “I think we’re going to see a lower turnout than normal, but I think we’re still going to see folks come to the polls, even folks who don’t like the situation.”
Alabama voters struggle with support for Roy Moore
Residents of Fairhope and Daphne, towns along the Eastern Shore of deeply red Baldwin County, represent the types of Republican voters Democratic candidate Doug Jones will have to cut into if he hopes to win, says Brown.
Republicans here tend to be politically moderate, with higher incomes and higher levels of education, while lacking the racial diversity found in neighboring Mobile County.
Signs supporting Jones scattered across lawns around Fairhope are raising some eyebrows in the area.
Leslie Goldberg, who is 62 and has lived in the Fairhope area for 25 years, said she felt many Republican voters are hesitant.
“I’m not going to vote for Roy Moore, at all. For obvious reasons,” she told CNN. “All that’s left is Doug Jones, who of course is a Democrat. And then there’s a lot of things I don’t like about him either. But what’s the worst of two evils?”
Still, many Alabama voters prioritize maintaining a slim two-seat majority in the Senate in Washington.
And the national attention on Alabama’s race has invigorated some local Republicans.
“They feel like they’re voting against everybody who doesn’t want Roy Moore,” Brown told CNN of some area Republicans who are not fans of Moore. “They feel like there’s this bigger thing they’re voting against.”
The national focus was in the forefront Tuesday night when former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon joined Moore for a rally in Fairhope.
“They want to destroy judge Roy Moore and they want to take your voice away,” Bannon told the crowd in Fairhope. “If they can destroy Roy Moore they can destroy you.”
Although few voters told CNN they’d actually pull the lever for a Democrat, some voters expressed discomfort with some of Moore’s stances.
Jones’ pro-abortion-rights stance has cost him votes in Alabama but Moore’s focus on religious beliefs turned off some voters even before the accusations against him.
“I feel like a lot of it is hot air,” wedding planner Candy Williams said of Moore’s controversial stances. “I really think that Trump’s endorsement is because we want the seat, but at which point do we just keep sweeping stuff under the rug?”
Williams, who supports Trump, told CNN she thought many voters wouldn’t admit it publicly but would probably vote for Moore.
Connie Holmes, a retired bookkeeper in Fairhope, said she had voted for Moore’s primary opponent, incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, who was appointed to temporarily fill the seat after then-Sen. Jeff Sessions became Trump’s attorney general.
Holmes plans to cast a write-in vote for Strange, even it it could help Jones win.
“At least I was thinking Luther,” Holmes told CNN. “Everything has gone haywire all of a sudden in the last six months.”
Some voters said the best case scenario would see Moore win and then be removed by the Senate Ethics Committee, leaving them with a new chance to elect a different Republican.
Voters were also focused on supporting Trump’s agenda in Washington, but many of the female voters in Fairhope who said they’d vote for Moore didn’t feel comfortable giving their names to CNN.
“I think all candidates have some disadvantages in the way they’ve conducted themselves but I’m probably leaning towards the Republican,” Asheton Sawyer, a pastor at the Fairhope First Baptist Church, told CNN. “Look at President Trump. I see some disappointments in him but I felt that he is probably the best for us right now.”
As the Republican Party continues to transform under the Trump presidency, Fairhope provides a hint of how some Republicans are struggling to adapt.
Jimmy Babb, 51, who owns a local fitness business, told CNN he would vote for Moore even though he didn’t agree with the way the candidate had handled controversies that led to his suspension as the state’s Supreme Court chief justice.
Babb, who supported Trump in 2016 and thinks the President is doing “OK,” is still wrestling with the accusations against Moore.
“I don’t know. Dating young girls, I still have a tough time with it,” he told CNN. “I wish we had better options.”