MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Most Republican leaders in Alabama say they plan to vote for Roy Moore on Tuesday despite sexual misconduct allegations against the former judge that have prompted others around the country to say he should never be allowed to join the U.S. Senate.
Sen. Richard Shelby is an exception — he said Sunday that the "tipping point" in his decision to cast a write-in ballot rather than vote for Moore or Democrat Doug Jones was an allegation that Moore molested a 14-year-old girl decades ago.
But Shelby's outspokenness against a man who could become his colleague was the exception rather than the rule.
"I have stated both publicly and privately over the last month that unless these allegations were proven to be true I would continue to plan to vote for the Republican nominee, Judge Roy Moore," Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill wrote in a text message to The Associated Press. "I have already cast my absentee ballot and I voted for Judge Moore."
The accusations against Moore have left many GOP voters and leaders in a quandary. Voters face the decision of whether to vote for Moore, accused of sexual misconduct with teenagers decades ago when he was a county prosecutor, or sending Jones to Washington, which would narrow the GOP's already precarious majority in the Senate.
They also could write in a name on their ballots or simply stay home. Meanwhile, most GOP politicians in the state must run for re-election next year — where they will face Moore's enthusiastic voting base at the polls.
The AP tried to find out how Republican leaders from Alabama plan to vote. Most officeholders or their staffs responded, while others have publicly stated their plans during public appearances or to other media outlets.
However, several officeholders did not respond to calls, emails or texts from the AP. They include U.S. Reps. Martha Roby, Mike Rogers and Gary Palmer, as well as state Treasurer Young Boozer and state House Speaker Mac McCutcheon.
State officeholders who said they intended to vote for Moore often cited the need to keep the seat in Republican hands.
In addition to Merrill, others who plan to vote for Moore include Gov. Kay Ivey; Attorney General Steve Marshall; state Auditor Jim Zeigler; Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan; state Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh; and Public Service Commissioner Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, who previously led the state GOP. Also voting for Moore are current state party head Terry Lathan and U.S. Reps. Mo Brooks of Huntsville and Robert Aderholt of Haleyville.
The state's most influential politician, Shelby has said he wrote in a "distinguished Republican" on his absentee ballot rather than vote for Moore.
Shelby told CNN on Sunday he had to vote Republican as a party officeholder, but he was swayed by a woman's claims that Moore sexually assaulted her when she was 14.
"There's a lot of smoke," said Shelby. "Got to be some fire somewhere."
Shelby's decision has played prominently in Jones ads pointing out Republicans who are not voting for their party's nominee.
CNN reported last month that U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne said he will vote Republican and that he does not cast write-in votes. In a statement to the AP, Byrne said it is up to voters to decide.
"Some serious allegations have been made and Judge Moore has vehemently denied them. Frankly, I don't think the people of Alabama want me, any national politician, or the national news media telling them what to think or how to vote," Byrne said in the statement. "The decision is ultimately up to the people of Alabama to evaluate the information they have before them and make an informed decision. We must respect the voters' decision."
Sen. Luther Strange, who lost to Moore in the Republican primary, did not respond to a request for comment from AP, but told The Washington Post recently that the election is up to voters.
"I'm staying out of it now. I think everybody knows how I feel about Judge Moore. We made our case and the voters made a different decision," Strange told the newspaper in a video on its website.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who resigned from the Senate to join the Trump administration, declined to say how he would vote. Moore and Jones are competing for his old job.
"There have been some ads that may have suggested I endorsed a candidate, that is not so," Sessions said. "I believe that the people of Alabama will make their own decision."
State party loyalty rules could prohibit a GOP politician, or someone who aspires to be one, from publicly backing Moore's opponent. The rule says anyone who openly supports another party's nominee over a Republican could be barred from running as a Republican in the future.
Ivey became governor earlier this year after Robert Bentley resigned amid a sex scandal involving a much younger female political aide. When reached by the AP, Bentley declined to say who he is voting for Tuesday.
Ivey said last month that she has no reason to disbelieve the women who have accused Moore and is bothered by their allegations. But Ivey, who plans to run for governor in 2018, said she will vote for Moore anyway for the sake of GOP power in Congress. Her office did not respond to a request for an updated comment.
Associated Press writers Matthew Daly, Sadie Gurman and Donna Cassata in Washington contributed to this report.