Roy Moore announces new Senate campaign

Roy Moore’s announcement Thursday that he would once again run for the U.S. Senate in Alabama sent a shudder through the Republican Party and raised a question: Could the GOP have avoided this scenario by uniting early around a credible consensus candidate?

Moore is a former state Supreme Court chief justice who last appeared on the scene in the winter of 2017, when he was the Republican nominee for the Senate in a special election. His candidacy crashed and burned amid charges of sexual misconduct involving minors from earlier in his career, and Moore’s loss to Doug Jones marked the first time Alabama had sent a Democrat to the Senate in 20 years.

Yet now Moore is back for, well, more. He called the accusations against him “false” and cited the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — which featured allegations of sexual assault against the judge — as an event that will make voters more skeptical of the charges against him.

“If they didn’t see through it then, they saw through it with Kavanaugh,” Moore said. “I’m in the race.”

Moore will be able to count on support from some number of hardcore supporters who view the allegations against him as politically motivated, or made up, or irrelevant, and he is helped by the absence of a clear consensus candidate in the Republican Party. There are two Republicans who have already declared: Rep. Bradley Byrne, from the state’s southwest corner, and former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville.

But Alabama insiders say neither of those two candidates are formidable enough to easily defeat Moore, especially in a primary in which 50.1 percent or more will be needed to avoid a runoff.

Two other politicians seen as credible — Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth and Rep. Gary Palmer — have declined to run. Ainsworth shut the door definitively two months ago, but Palmer has not.

“I would hope that there would be stronger viable candidates. Gary Palmer would be the preference,” said Hatton Smith, a Republican businessman who has chaired fundraising efforts for mainstream candidates in the past.

However, even Palmer and Ainsworth are likely not strong enough to have cleared the field, other Alabama Republicans said.

When Jones beat Moore in 2017, Smith said it was a case of “good over evil” and said he looked forward to Republicans finding a candidate who could beat Jones in 2020. But Smith told Yahoo News in an interview Thursday that if Moore were again the Republican nominee in 2020, he and many other Republicans he knows would vote for Jones again, as they did in 2017.

“There will be a lot of mobilization of people who are Republicans who will not vote for Moore under any circumstances, and you can count me as leading the opposition,” Smith said.

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Scenes from inside Doug Jones and Roy Moore election night parties
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Scenes from inside Doug Jones and Roy Moore election night parties

A supporter of democratic U.S. Senator candidate Doug Jones cries as Jones is declared the winner during his election night gathering the Sheraton Hotel on December 12, 2017 in Birmingham, Alabama. Doug Jones defeated his republican challenger Roy Moore to claim Alabama's U.S. Senate seat that was vacated by attorney general Jeff Sessions.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Supporters react as results show a tight race between Republican Senatorial candidate Roy Moore during his election night party in the RSA Activity Center on December 12, 2017 in Montgomery, Alabama. Mr. Moore is facing off against Democrat Doug Jones in the special election for the U.S. Senate.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Supporters celebrate after media began to call the election for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Doug Jones, at his election night party in Birmingham, Alabama, U.S. December 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Marvin Gentry)

Supporters react as results show a tight race between Republican Senatorial candidate Roy Moore during his election night party in the RSA Activity Center on December 12, 2017 in Montgomery, Alabama. Mr. Moore is facing off against Democrat Doug Jones in the special election for the U.S. Senate.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Supporters of democratic U.S. Senator candidate Doug Jones celebrate as Jones is declared the winner during his election night gathering the Sheraton Hotel on December 12, 2017 in Birmingham, Alabama. Doug Jones defeated his republican challenger Roy Moore to claim Alabama's U.S. Senate seat that was vacated by attorney general Jeff Sessions.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Supporters react as results show a tight race between Republican Senatorial candidate Roy Moore during his election night party in the RSA Activity Center on December 12, 2017 in Montgomery, Alabama. Mr. Moore is facing off against Democrat Doug Jones in the special election for the U.S. Senate.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Democratic U.S. Senator elect Doug Jones greets supporters during his election night gathering the Sheraton Hotel on December 12, 2017 in Birmingham, Alabama. Doug Jones defeated his republican challenger Roy Moore to claim Alabama's U.S. Senate seat that was vacated by attorney general Jeff Sessions.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Supporters of Republican senatorial candidate Roy Moore watch for results at an election night party in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 12, 2017. Democrat Doug Jones scored a victory Tuesday in a fiercely contested US Senate race in conservative Alabama, dealing a setback to US President Donald Trump, whose candidate could not overcome damaging sexual misconduct accusations. With 92 percent of precincts reporting, former prosecutor Jones secured 49.5 percent of the vote compared to Roy Moore's 48.8 percent, CNN and other networks reported.

(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Supporters react as results show a tight race between Republican Senatorial candidate Roy Moore during his election night party in the RSA Activity Center on December 12, 2017 in Montgomery, Alabama. Mr. Moore is facing off against Democrat Doug Jones in the special election for the U.S. Senate.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Supporters of democratic U.S. Senator candidate Doug Jones celebrate as Jones is declared the winner during his election night gathering the Sheraton Hotel on December 12, 2017 in Birmingham, Alabama. Doug Jones defeated his republican challenger Roy Moore to claim Alabama's U.S. Senate seat that was vacated by attorney general Jeff Sessions.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Supporters of Republican senatorial candidate Roy Moore hug as they watch results at an election night party in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 12, 2017. Democrat Doug Jones scored a victory Tuesday in a fiercely contested US Senate race in conservative Alabama, dealing a setback to US President Donald Trump, whose candidate could not overcome damaging sexual misconduct accusations. With 92 percent of precincts reporting, former prosecutor Jones secured 49.5 percent of the vote compared to Roy Moore's 48.8 percent, CNN and other networks reported.

(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 12: Alabama Democrat Doug Jones poses for a selfie as he celebrates his victory over Judge Roy Moore at the Sheraton in Birmingham, Ala., on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. Jones is faced off against Judge Roy Moore in a special election for Jeff Sessions' seat in the U.S. Senate. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Supporters of Republican senatorial candidate Roy Moore wait for results at an election night party in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 12, 2017. Democrat Doug Jones scored a victory Tuesday in a fiercely contested US Senate race in conservative Alabama, dealing a setback to US President Donald Trump, whose candidate could not overcome damaging sexual misconduct accusations. With 92 percent of precincts reporting, former prosecutor Jones secured 49.5 percent of the vote compared to Roy Moore's 48.8 percent, CNN and other networks reported.

(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Supporters of democratic U.S. Senator candidate Doug Jones celebrate as Jones is declared the winner during his election night gathering the Sheraton Hotel on December 12, 2017 in Birmingham, Alabama. Doug Jones defeated his republican challenger Roy Moore to claim Alabama's U.S. Senate seat that was vacated by attorney general Jeff Sessions.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A supporter holds a sign at Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore's election night party in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S. December 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

A supporter holds up a "Bikers For Trump" sign as he attends Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore's election night party in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S. December 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman)

A supporter of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore prays after media began to call the election for rival candidate Democrat Doug Jones, at Moore's election night party in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S. December 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman)

A costumed supporter checks results on her phone at Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore's election night party in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S. December 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

A supporter holds a sign during Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Doug Jones' election night party in Birmingham, Alabama, U.S. December 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Marvin Gentry)

Supporters of Republican senatorial candidate Roy Moore watch for results at an election night party in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 12, 2017. Democrat Doug Jones scored a victory Tuesday in a fiercely contested US Senate race in conservative Alabama, dealing a setback to US President Donald Trump, whose candidate could not overcome damaging sexual misconduct accusations. With 92 percent of precincts reporting, former prosecutor Jones secured 49.5 percent of the vote compared to Roy Moore's 48.8 percent, CNN and other networks reported.

(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Supporters of Republican senatorial candidate Roy Moore hug as they watch results at an election night party in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 12, 2017. Democrat Doug Jones scored a victory Tuesday in a fiercely contested US Senate race in conservative Alabama, dealing a setback to US President Donald Trump, whose candidate could not overcome damaging sexual misconduct accusations. With 92 percent of precincts reporting, former prosecutor Jones secured 49.5 percent of the vote compared to Roy Moore's 48.8 percent, CNN and other networks reported.

(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

A supporter wearing a "Bikers For Trump" emblem on his hat attends Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore's election night party in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S. December 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman)

"Make America Great Again" hats lie on a table at Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore's election night party in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S. December 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

Supporters pray during the invocation at Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore's election night party in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S. December 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman)

Supporters of Republican senatorial candidate Roy Moore wait for polls results at an election night party in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 12, 2017. Alabama voters were casting the last ballots Tuesday in a pivotal US Senate contest between a Republican dogged by accusations he once preyed on teenage girls and a Democrat seeking an upset win in a deeply conservative southern state.

(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

MONTGOMERY, AL - DECEMBER 12: A woman wears an 'I Voted' sticker as she awaits the arrival of Republican Senatorial candidate Roy Moore for his election night party in the RSA Activity Center on December 12, 2017 in Montgomery, Alabama. Mr. Moore is facing off against Democrat Doug Jones in the special election for the U.S. Senate.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Supporters recite the Pledge of Allegiance as they await the arrival of Republican Senatorial candidate Roy Moore for his election night party in the RSA Activity Center on December 12, 2017 in Montgomery, Alabama. Mr. Moore is facing off against Democrat Doug Jones in the special election for the U.S. Senate.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Supporters react as results show a tight race between Republican Senatorial candidate Roy Moore during his election night party in the RSA Activity Center on December 12, 2017 in Montgomery, Alabama. Mr. Moore is facing off against Democrat Doug Jones in the special election for the U.S. Senate.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Democratic Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Doug Jones acknowledges supporters at the election night party in Birmingham, Alabama, U.S., December 12, 2017. REUTERS/Marvin Gentry
Attendees react to election results during an election night party for Roy Moore, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate from Alabama, in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. Democrat�Doug Jones�delivered a stunning upset defeat to Republican�Roy Moore�in a U.S. Senate race in deep-red Alabama that had split the GOP even before its controversial nominee was accused of inappropriate conduct with teenage girls. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An attendee uses her phone during an election night party for Roy Moore, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate from Alabama, in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. Democrat�Doug Jones�delivered a stunning upset defeat to Republican�Roy Moore�in a U.S. Senate race in deep-red Alabama that had split the GOP even before its controversial nominee was accused of inappropriate conduct with teenage girls. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Attendees pray during an election night party for Roy Moore, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate from Alabama, in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. Democrat�Doug Jones�delivered a stunning upset defeat to Republican�Roy Moore�in a U.S. Senate race in deep-red Alabama that had split the GOP even before its controversial nominee was accused of inappropriate conduct with teenage girls. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Attendees react to election results during an election night party for Roy Moore, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate from Alabama, in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. Democrat�Doug Jones�delivered a stunning upset defeat to Republican�Roy Moore�in a U.S. Senate race in deep-red Alabama that had split the GOP even before its controversial nominee was accused of inappropriate conduct with teenage girls. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
BIRMINGHAM, AL - DECEMBER 12: Democratic U.S. Senator elect Doug Jones (L) kisses his wife Louise Jones (R) during his election night gathering the Sheraton Hotel on December 12, 2017 in Birmingham, Alabama. Doug Jones defeated his republican challenger Roy Moore to claim Alabama's U.S. Senate seat that was vacated by attorney general Jeff Sessions. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Supporters of Republican senatorial candidate Roy Moore sing gospel after election results show Moore lost, in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 12, 2017. Democrat Doug Jones scored a victory Tuesday in a fiercely contested US Senate race in conservative Alabama, dealing a setback to US President Donald Trump, whose candidate could not overcome damaging sexual misconduct accusations. With 92 percent of precincts reporting, former prosecutor Jones secured 49.5 percent of the vote compared to Roy Moore's 48.8 percent, CNN and other networks reported. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
BIRMINGHAM, AL - DECEMBER 12: Democratic U.S. Senator elect Doug Jones greets supporters during his election night gathering the Sheraton Hotel on December 12, 2017 in Birmingham, Alabama. Doug Jones defeated his republican challenger Roy Moore to claim Alabama� U.S. Senate seat that was vacated by attorney general Jeff Sessions.�(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)� (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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Because of this, Moore’s entrance into the race is good news for Jones, who is probably the most vulnerable incumbent senator of any in the entire country. Jones’s best hope of being reelected rests on a rematch with Moore, according to one knowledgeable Alabama Republican.

That view is shared by an Alabama Democratic leader, who called the Moore candidacy a “great opportunity” for Democrats.

“Roy Moore doesn’t represent Alabama values, which is why he was rejected by a bipartisan group of Democrats, Republicans and Independents in 2017,” the state House minority leader Anthony Daniels told Yahoo News. “If we want to create opportunity for all Alabamians we need senators like [Doug Jones], not people who will embarrass our state and chase away job creators, like Moore.”

Trump, who had backed Moore the last time he ran for Senate even after the sexual misconduct allegations surfaced, has recently tried to wave Moore off from a run. In late May the president tweeted that “if Alabama does not elect a Republican to the Senate in 2020, many of the incredible gains that we have made during my Presidency may be lost.”

“Roy Moore cannot win, and the consequences will be devastating,” Trump said.

Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, has been even more scathing. “If you actually care about #MAGA more than your own ego, it’s time to ride off into the sunset, Judge,” Trump Jr. said.

One person close to Trump said it’s unclear whether the president will continue to criticize Moore, but another Alabama Republican insider said that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will advocate for Trump to push Moore out of the race.

“McConnell’s going to stay on him for that and it’s an easy thing to do for McConnell that doesn’t cost [the White House] anything,” said the Alabama Republican.

But this Republican insider said he has watched Moore come back from political purgatory before, and the past is a cautionary tale for those who might underestimate Moore now.

“He’ll win when nobody expected him to win and we’d all get together and say we’re never going to let that happen again,” the Republican insider said. “This will be another test.”

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