Roy Moore, who lost a 2017 special election following allegations of sexual misconduct, announced Thursday that he is once again making a run for the Senate.
Moore joins a number of Republicans already vying for their party’s nomination to take on Alabama Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, who narrowly defeated Moore in 2017.
“Can I win? Yes I can win,” Moore told reporters in Montgomery, Ala.
“Not only can I, they know I can,” he said, referring to Republicans who oppose his candidacy.
Moore’s entrance in the race raises questions about whether his loyal base could once again propel him out of a crowded primary and make the Senate race in deep red Alabama more competitive for Jones, a top GOP target in 2020.
A former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice who was twice removed from the bench, Moore faced allegations of sexual misconduct a few weeks before the December 2017 special election. As first reported by the Washington Post, several women accused Moore of inappropriately pursuing them when they were teenagers and he was in his thirties. Three accused him of assault. Moore denied any wrongdoing.
Moore likened those allegations to those levied against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, which Kavanaugh denied at a dramatic Judiciary Committee hearing before he was confirmed by the Senate.
“The people of Alabama, they know of dirty politics. They’re angry,” Moore said. “They’re tired after Kavanaugh’s revelations came out and after Kavanaugh survived them, they realized and saw through what happened to me.”
Republicans, including President Donald Trump, have been vocal about how Moore’s candidacy in 2020 could be disastrous for the party’s chances of defeating Jones.
“I think President Trump has every right to voice his opinion,” Moore said Thursday, adding he thought Trump was being pushed to make those comments by the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Moore said Alabama voters are angry about what happened to him.
“They want Washington and other people outside this state out of their election,” he said.
The allegations may have cost Moore the election in 2017, although there were already Republicans who opposed Moore due to his controversial rhetoric.
Jones won the race by boosting African-American turnout and peeling off GOP voters who could not stomach voting for Moore. Jones is a former U.S. Attorney who became well known for convicting members of the Ku Klux Klan responsible for the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, which killed four young girls.
Jones won 50 percent of the vote, defeating Moore by 1.6 points, or roughly 22,000 votes. Nearly 23,000 voters wrote in another candidate. Jones was elected to serve the remainder of former GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions′ term, after he resigned to become attorney general. Jones is now running for a full term.
Moore said the 2017 special election was “fraudulent,” citing reports of Democratic operatives who deployed online tactics to influence the election, similar to Russian actions on social media that aimed to influence the 2016 election.
The tactics included a “false flag” operation to tie the Moore campaign to Russian online bots, according to the New York Times. The Times reported that the operation was likely too small to influence the outcome, noting the effort cost $100,000 in a $51 million campaign. Jones’ campaign was not involved, and Jones called on the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department to investigate.
GOP opposition wouldn’t be new for Moore. In the 2017 primary runoff, national Republicans backed then-Sen. Luther Strange, but Moore used that involvement to rally his supporters by decrying outside influence.
The GOP primary to take on Jones is already crowded with Rep. Bradley Byrne, former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, and state Rep. Arnold Mooney vying for the nomination.
Secretary of State John Merrill filed with the FEC to run on Wednesday, but said he would make a formal announcement next week if he decides to run. State Auditor Jim Zeigler is also reportedly exploring a run.
It’s unclear whether outside groups that attacked Moore in 2017 will get involved again to prevent Moore from winning the primary, which is on March 3, 2020.
NRSC Chairman Todd Young told the Associated Press last month that the committee will “actively work to make sure that the most conservative, electable Republican is our nominee.”
The Senate Leadership Fund, a Super PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, spent against Moore in the 2017 primary runoff. Spokesman Jack Pandol said in a statement Thursday, “We believe most Alabama Republicans realize that nominating Roy Moore would be gift wrapping this Senate seat for Chuck Schumer.”
“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,” Pandol said.
The Alabama Senate race is Republicans’ best Senate pickup opportunity in 2020. Trump carried the state by 28 points in 2016. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Lean Republican.
Jones responded to Moore’s candidacy with a tweet, saying, “So it looks like my opponent will either be extremist Roy Moore or an extremist handpicked by Mitch McConnell to be part of his legislative graveyard team. Let’s get to work so we can get things done!”