Embattled former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore told a crowd of supporters during a Baptist conference in Clarke County Tuesday that America is in a "spiritual battle" for acknowledgement of God in society, but offered little about a controversy that threatens his political career.
In a 32-minute speech during a conference entitled "God Save America," Moore said he seems to have been the one person of late who has united Democrats and Republicans, and believes that millions of dollars raised against his Senate candidacy in Alabama is related to his deep-rooted Christian beliefs.
It was his first major public appearance since five women came forward alleging he pursued them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.
"Obviously, I've made a few people mad," Moore said during an evening filled with preaching from pastors and songs from a youth choir.
"I'm the only one who can unite Democrats and Republicans because I seem to be opposed by both," Moore said on the same day the Republican National Committee withdrew from a joint fundraising agreement with the ex-judge's campaign. "They've spent over $30 million to take me out. They've done everything they could and now they are together to keep me from Washington, and why? It has a lot to do about what we are talking about here tonight."
'Harassed by media'
Moore did not directly address the specific allegations that he engaged in inappropriate and sexual contact with teenage girls about 40 years ago, when he was a 32-year-old prosecutor in Etowah County. The allegations were first raised Thursday in a Washington Post article, and included accusations from a 52-year-old woman that when she was 14, Moore made inappropriate sexual contact.
The allegations have rattled Alabama's Senate campaign with less than one month to go before the Dec. 12 general election. Moore's opponent is Democrat Doug Jones, and recent polling is showing a tight race in a state that has been a reliable Republican stronghold for years.
"Today, you find out that people would rather hear criticism of a person than look at what he's done for 20, 30, 40 years," Moore said.
Moore recounted his past political career, which involved two removals from the state bench related to his social crusades. In 2003, he was booted from the bench for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama judicial building. And just last year, he was suspended as a state judge for instructing the state's probate judges to withhold marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
"Why do you think they are giving me this trouble?" Moore said. "Why am I being harassed by the media (who are) pushing these allegations in the last 30 days of this campaign? After 40-something years of fighting this battle, I'm now facing allegations. That's all the press wants to talk about. But I want to talk about the issues and where this country is going and if we don't come back to God, we're not going anywhere."
Moore didn't bring up any specific political issues during the speech, such as health care or tax reform. But he did encourage the attendees, including members of the youth choir, to "take a stand" in defense of their Christian principles as they pursue professional careers in government, medicine or in their marriages.
"I'm telling you, it's not easy," said Moore. "It's not an easy road. But if it's God's will, that is what you need to do."
'Praying to God'
Moore's speech was during a service inside a gymnasium at Walker Springs Road Baptist Church, part of a week-long revival conference. "It's not just a conference, it's a CAUSE" read the banner hanging on the gym's wall.
Moore arrived more than an hour before the service began with only his wife accompanying him. He did not take reporter's questions before or after the speech.
Rev. David Webb, pastor of the church consisting of about 200 members, said the amount of national media attention accompanying Moore's visit was the result of "God's purpose."
"We've been praying for God to do something big, but we didn't know he would do it," said Webb, adding that he believes Moore will win the election, before adding that he believes his church members will vote for the ex-judge.
"Why wouldn't they?" he said, adding that the allegations about child sex abuse against Moore are "just allegations."
Evangelical conservative voters are expected to be Moore's biggest supporters on Dec. 12. A Decision Desk HQ poll, taken last weekend after The Washington Post report first surfaced, showed the former judge in a tie with Jones. But among voters describing themselves as evangelical, Moore held at least a 20-percentage-point advantage, according to the poll. And the vast majority of those evangelical voters admitted to having heard or read news stories about the allegations outlined in the Washington Post report.
Their support comes as national Republicans are fleeing Moore's campaign in droves, while Alabama Republicans continue to back their nominee for the same seat long held by current U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Moore, on Twitter Tuesday, said the "fight has just begun" and vowed to lead efforts to remove Republican Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell from his current Senate Majority Leadership post.
Said Webb: "In American, you are innocent until proven guilty. Why would you change that? He's stood for faith and God and the Bible since he's been in office and he's paid a price for it. His character over the last 20 years, it's been unblemished. That's why he's popular among Christians. He's living what we believe."
In Jackson, the largest community of about 5,000 residents in rural Clarke County about 90 miles northwest of Mobile, some residents who describe themselves as Republican voters said they felt uneasy about the allegations that Moore pursued teenage girls in the decades ago.
"I'm a staunch conservative and I want morally sound Christian leaders," said Eddie Ryser, a rural Clarke County resident while dining at the Lil' Touch of Cajun Grill in Jackson. "But I'm going to have to do some soul searching."
Ryser said he's a "100 percent" supporter of President Donald Trump and he backed current U.S. Senator Luther Strange during the Sept. 26 runoff election, which Moore won. He said he approved of Moore's past social crusade to display a monument of the Ten Commandments inside the state's judiciary building which prompted his first removal from the bench in 2003.
"It's something that came out a before an election so I think he needs the benefit of the doubt," said Ryser, but added. "If he's guilty of what he's being accused of, then I cannot tolerate that behavior."
Inside the diner, which serves fried chicken and offers an evening buffet, most guests said they were unaware of the international media attention that had arrived to the Jackson church.
"That would be a big surprise," said Ashley Powell, the restaurant's day shift manager, adding that the Senate race has become a topic of discussion in recent days. "We've had customers talking about it. It's up in the air. I'm not sure who everyone is for."
Jim Cox, the longtime editor-publisher of The Clarke County Democrat, said he could not recall anything drawing the amount of national media attention as Moore's appearance. CNN, Fox News, ABC News, CBS, among others, had camera crews crammed into the church gymnasium.
"I'm sure it's the most (attention) our town has ever gotten," Webb said....Read more