Former Alabama judge says sexual misconduct allegations will be addressed ‘when we get to the Senate’ while sister says she believes he will win
“Don’t frighten the horses” was the plea to a rolling scrum of cameramen and reporters on Tuesday as the controversial Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore cast his vote in remote, rural Alabama.
Moore and his wife, Kayla, rode through woods on their horses Sassy and Sundance to a polling station in tiny Gallant on a chilly, grey December day. When they departed a few minutes later, an aide shouted anxiously: “Get away with the cameras, everybody. You’re going to frighten the horses!”
The candidate himself, wearing a cowboy hat, warned: “You all better back up,” in case the animals made a sudden charge.
It was a typically peculiar episode at the end of Moore’s profoundly strange battle with the Democrat Doug Jones for the vacant Senate seat in Alabama, usually a Republican heartland that Donald Trump, who has endorsed Moore, won in a landslide last year. But the former judge is facing multiple allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct, including that he touched a 14-year-old girl inappropriately. He denies all the claims.
His appearance at the polling place, hosted by a fire station in Gallant, attracted TV crews from Australia, Britain and other parts of Europe as well as the US. As Moore rode past, one reporter asked how he was feeling. “Pretty good,” he replied.
There was a headlong dash to watch Moore dismount. Then he was mobbed and chaos ensued. The horse looked unsettled and some journalists stepped back warily.
As the candidate walked forward, reporters with microphones clustered around him, ducking between cars and over puddles, amid a cacophony of shouted questions. One photographer nearly fell backwards into muddy water; another toppled and was helped up by Moore.
After voting, the candidate brushed off questions about the accusations hanging over him. “I’m talking about this race,” he said. “The people will answer these allegations this evening at the vote. We’re done with that. Let’s get back to the issues in this state.”
Asked for his message to the people of Alabama, Moore replied: “I think: got to go out and vote their conscience and we have a tremendous turnout in the state. The nation is watching this. In fact, we have how many international people from overseas, from different nations here today? It’s a very important race for our country, for our state and for the future.”
Moore said he was not concerned by the threat of expulsion from the Senate or an investigation by its ethics committee. “We’ll take those problems up when we get to the Senate, when we win.”
With that, he and Kayla returned to their horses, pursued again by the throng and a chorus of questions. The animals looked frisky and unpredictable. Moore and an aide urged journalists to stand well back. Kayla departed first, followed by Moore, who said Sassy was a fitting name for his horse.
His family were also there to support him. Moore’s sister, Nancy Barksdale, 64, said: “I think he will win. If God wants him to win, he’ll win. It would be awesome.”
She said of the constant drumbeat of allegations: “I think it’s terrible. I think it was all lies. I’ve never in my 64 years on earth seen such a dirty-run campaign by the opponent. Not only did it hurt us as a family but it made me angry. Every single woman is lying. The newspapers don’t print anything we say; they only print the bad stuff.”
Asked if she remembered her brother dating younger women or girls, Barksdale, who voted for Trump for president, replied: “He just didn’t do that. They made that up four months before the election. They had to do something to bring him down.”
Moore’s nephew, Tyson Martin, 31, a firefighter, said Moore would “bring morality” to the Senate if he wins. “He’s my uncle and I’ve known him all my life. I’ve never seen anything other than a good Christian man. I don’t think my uncle did any of those things. I’m not going to call the women liars because I don’t know them. I know my uncle and I believe him.”
Martin added: “The media have their own agenda. A lot of the media have power. They don’t want it taken away and they think Roy Moore might be a threat.”
Later, Ted Crockett, a spokesman for Moore, reinforced the Alabama Republican’s past statements that “homosexual conduct” should be illegal and that Muslims should not be allowed to serve in Congress.
When Crockett was asked if Moore still believed homosexuality should still be illegal, he said “probably”. The spokesman also wrongly insisted that it was necessary to swear on a Christian Bible to serve in an elected office and that Moore’s stance was simply “that a Muslim cannot do that ethically”. When it was pointed out that there was no legal obligation to take an oath of office on a Christian Bible, Crockett said: “I know Donald Trump did it.”
The remarks in the final hours of the race struck another discordant note in a confounding election.