MIDLAND CITY, Ala. — Most Republican lawmakers have shunned Roy Moore. And top GOP candidates have ducked questions about him. But four 2018 hopefuls traveled to Alabama on Monday to show their support.
These candidates are backing the former state Supreme Court chief justice even after allegations surfaced that he inappropriately pursued — and in two cases assaulted — teenage girls when he was in his 30s. Moore still has the support of President Donald Trump and former White House adviser Steve Bannon, and this small cohort of GOP primary candidates looking to take on the party establishment.
The four candidates attended Moore’s “Drain the Swamp” rally on the eve of Tuesday’s special Senate election, and three of them spoke.
Paul Nehlen, donning a red “Make America Great Again” hat, was met with cheers from the crowd when he was introduced as the man taking on House Speaker Paul D. Ryan.
“It’s a spiritual battle we are in,” Nehlen said, using the same phrase as Moore to describe the race.
Candidates like Nehlen are trying to replicate Trump’s success last year (even though Nehlen was crushed by Ryan in the 2016 primary). Trump won the presidency despite being largely made unwelcome by traditional party leaders, who were turned off by his bombastic style and controversial statements.
Bannon has backed candidates who support Trump’s agenda and are taking on sitting Republicans, even as other Republicans argue that these candidates are too extreme to win general elections.
Watch: In Alabama Race, Jones Has Funding, Moore Has Trump, Bannon Support
The handful of candidates on hand Monday night said they wanted show Moore that he was not alone.
“What the GOP establishment and Democrats are doing right now to Judge Moore, they’re going to try to do that to other Trump-supporting candidates for the U.S. Senate next year,” said Corey Stewart, who is running for Senate in Virginia. “They’re going to try to pick us off one by one and we need to stick together.”
Moore has suggested the GOP establishment and Democrats have worked together to upend his campaign, and are behind the allegations first reported by The Washington Post.
“They’ve already started for me,” Stewart said. “Last week [National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman] Cory Gardner, essentially Mitch McConnell’s guys, have said they would rather have a Democrat than me.”
Stewart seemed to be referring to a recent Washington Post report that Gardner and other GOP figures were recruiting candidates to jump into the race.
Nehlen is challenging Ryan again even though he lost to the speaker by 68 points in the GOP primary last cycle. His last campaign had some help from Bannon’s far-right Breitbart News, but couldn’t come close to beating Ryan.
Bannon has reportedly reached a truce with the National Republican Congressional Committee and does not expect to challenge sitting House Republicans. (He has said he wants to take on sitting GOP senators.)
But Nehlen didn’t believe Bannon would leave House Republicans alone.
“I would say I hope they believe that,” Nehlen said after Moore’s rally. “I hope Paul Ryan and the rest of the group believe that we’re not coming for them. Because we’re all coming for them.”
“Sure,” Nehlen told Roll Call after the event, when asked if Bannon was supporting his campaign. “There’s a lot of people that are supporting me. I’m going to be on the air with Steve Bannon here in a couple minutes.”
Nehlen and Stewart were not the only 2018 hopeful at Moore’s Monday night rally.
Victory Birkenstock, who is challenging Texas GOP Rep. Michael Burgess, led the crowd in a “Make America great again!” cheer, echoing Trump’s campaign slogan.
Republican Courtland Sykes, who is running in the Missouri Senate primary, also addressed the rallygoers.
Breitbart had listed Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, a Republican, on its list of “extraordinary candidates.” The Springfield News-Leader then reported that Bannon was backing Hawley, also a top recruit for Republicans aligned with leadership.
But Sykes said Bannon might not actually be supporting Hawley after all.
“You can ask him, but he’s not going to be endorsing Hawley,” Sykes said of Bannon after the rally.
Bannon does not explicitly endorse candidates, but his appearances at rallies with certain candidates, such as former Arizona state Sen. Kelli Ward, signal his approval to core Trump supporters.
Asked if he has discussed his campaign with Bannon, and about his potential support, Sykes said: “I’ll say this, it was a private conversation. I’ll just leave it at that.”
Bannon had choice words for the Republicans who have rejected Moore, which he said meant they were blocking the president’s agenda.
“There’s a special place in hell for Republicans who should know better,” he said.