While many sitting Republican senators — including Alabama’s own Richard C. Shelby — have continued to criticize Roy Moore, a few candidates who’d like to join them in the Senate have taken a more measured tone leading up to Tuesday’s election.
In several cases, that warmer embrace (or less forceful rejection) of the Alabama GOP Senate nominee is a change in tone from their previous public statements.
The evolution comes as the president and the Republican National Committee have stepped back into the race for Moore, while other GOP leaders who first called on Moore to drop out have since come to terms with the fact that Moore is going to be on the ballot Tuesday and the Senate will have to seat him if he wins.
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Up to the voters
In an interview Sunday, Indiana GOP Rep. Todd Rokita was asked a two-part question about Moore: “Do you want to see Roy Moore win on Tuesday? If you both win, would you be comfortable serving with him in the Senate?”
The Senate candidate didn’t repeat his earlier suggestion that Moore should drop out.
“I’d be comfortable with whoever the voters of Alabama send to the Senate, and that’s whose decision this is,” Rokita told local CBS affiliate WTTV’s “IN Focus” on Sunday.
“And I’d be comfortable with Roy Moore,” he added, before praising his anti-abortion credentials.
In mid-November, shortly after The Washington Post published allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore, Rokita spoke more forcefully against his candidacy.
“[The voters] deserve a clear choice. And because it’s so clouded and muddy now, I’m wondering whether they will have that clear choice. So to the extent that they’re not, yeah …” he told “IN Focus” host Dan Spehler when asked if Moore should step aside.
His fellow Hoosier Rep. Luke Messer is also running for the GOP Senate nomination. Asked Monday about Messer’s position on Moore, campaign manager Chasen Bullock said it was “the same as before.”
“Luke has also said it’s up for the people of Alabama to decide,” Bullock said in an email.
On Nov. 16, Messer called on Moore to “step down.”
Former state Rep. Mike Braun, who’s also running for the Republican Senate nod in Indiana, called for Moore to drop out last month. His campaign said Monday the candidate still stands by that position.
In one of his earliest statements about Moore, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley put the burden of proof on Moore.
“Unless he can give rock-solid evidence that these claims are false, he should get out of the race,” the GOP Senate candidate said Nov. 13.
Asked on Monday whether he’d vote for Moore if had the chance, Hawley did not directly answer. But he repeated his calls for Moore to provide evidence of his innocence.
“These allegations are very serious allegations,” Hawley reiterated, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“At least some of them are allegations of criminal wrongdoing,” he continued. “And that I don’t know what the truth is, but Judge Moore does. And I think that if these allegations are true, he should not be running. And he should step aside. And I also think that he should come forward, at this point, with evidence to exonerate himself, which he has not done.”
Hawley said if he were elected to the Senate, he’d want to examine any evidence from the Ethics Committee before voting to expel Moore.
Other Republican Senate candidates haven’t put the burden of proof on Moore, but they have maintained the “if true” qualifiers in denying him their support.
“These allegations are extremely disturbing and if true, I cannot support his candidacy for the United States Senate, but it’s up to the people of Alabama to ultimately decide,” Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn has said. Her campaign said Monday she stood by that statement.
Even Senate Republicans who have called for Moore to step aside and those like Maine’s Susan Collins — who said she wouldn’t have supported Moore even before the sexual misconduct allegations — have hesitated at the idea of expelling him from the Senate and defying the will of Alabama voters if he wins.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell drew attention earlier this month for a shift in tone when, after first calling for Moore to drop out, he said he’d “let the people of Alabama make the call.”
The Kentucky Republican later said his remarks didn’t signify any “change in heart” on Moore. He’s said the former judge should be prepared to face an Ethics Committee investigation if he wins.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which cut ties with the Moore campaign in November, has not stepped back into the race. Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, the committee chairman, has called for Moore to be expelled if he makes it to the Senate.
That’s put the NRSC at odds with candidates such as Montana’s Matt Rosendale, who has praised Moore’s public service and said he’ll support Moore “until he’s found guilty of a crime.”