Republicans see rising Dem odds in Alabama

Senate Republicans are increasingly concerned that the Alabama seat held by Sen. Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangeCrowley surprise tops huge night for left Races to watch in Tuesday’s primaries Loyalty to Donald Trump is new normal for the Republican Party MORE (R) could be lost to Democrats.

They still hope that GOP nominee Roy Moore can be stopped before the state’s Dec. 12 special election, either by the Alabama Republican Party disqualifying him or President Trump convincing him to drop out.

But neither has happened so far, and other options for saving the seat — including support for a write-in candidate — seem likely to split the GOP vote and pave the way for a Democratic victory.

“The thinking is, if he doesn’t get out, we’re sunk,” said a Republican senator who requested anonymity.

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Moore is facing mounting accusations of sexual misconduct, with women accusing him of sexual assault and pursuing them romantically when they were teenagers.

A National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) poll conducted days after the allegations against Moore became public showed him trailing Democratic candidate Doug Jones by 12 points.

The survey of 500 registered voters showed 39 percent support for Moore, compared to 51 percent for Jones and 10 percent undecided.

The poll also showed Moore’s favorable rating plummeting from 49 percent in early October to 35 percent this week.    

Meanwhile, Trump disappointed Senate Republican leaders who had hoped he would urge Moore to drop out, saying nothing about Moore during public comments regarding his recent trip to Asia.

He ignored shouted questions from reporters about whether the candidate should leave the race.

The president also dodged the controversy on Twitter.

He tweeted instead about Chinese President Xi Jinping, three UCLA basketball players recently detained in China for alleged shoplifting and his criticism of CNN and The New York Times.

Hours earlier, the third-ranking Senate Republican leader said he hoped Trump would try to wield his political clout in Alabama, a state he won with 62 percent of the vote.

“He’s in position to exercise a good amount of influence on the race down there,” said Senate Republican Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE The real reason Scott Pruitt is gone: Putting a key voting bloc at risk Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers eye ban on Chinese surveillance cameras | DOJ walks back link between fraud case, OPM breach | GOP senators question Google on Gmail data | FCC under pressure to delay Sinclair merger review MORE (R-S.D.).

Thune said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Overnight Defense: Washington reeling from Trump, Putin press conference Feehery: The long game MORE (R-Ky.) is also “of a mind, yes, that the president could be influential.”

“He’s obviously got a huge following in Alabama, so we’ll see,” he said.

Trump’s daughter Ivanka weighed in as well, telling The Associated Press that she didn’t doubt Moore’s accusers and saying, “There’s a special place in hell for people who prey on children.”

But without pressure from Trump, Moore dug in his heels even harder on Wednesday. He lashed out at the GOP establishment in Washington and pledged to stay in the race.

“We are everything the Washington Elite hate. They will do whatever it takes to stop us. We will not quit,” Moore tweeted.

Moore’s attorney, Phillip Jauregui, held a press conference Wednesday afternoon raising the possibility that an inscription one accuser said Moore made in her 1977 yearbook was a forgery. 

Moore has kept the support of at least one key ally, former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, which may be one reason why Trump is reluctant to push him out of the race.

Sources close to Bannon, the chairman of Breitbart News, insist he is sticking by embattled Moore even as high-profile conservatives cut ties with him.

People who have spoken with Bannon and others who are familiar with his thinking say reports that he is having second thoughts about his support for Moore are overcooked.

Sources tell The Hill that Bannon is still slated to rally support for Moore at a campaign stop in early December and that other events could be in the works.

Breitbart already has two reporters on the ground in Alabama writing stories that are favorable to Moore or that raise questions about his accusers. On Wednesday, a third Breitbart reporter joined the effort there.

Bannon is in Japan and returns this week. One source who has spoken with Bannon since Tuesday said he remains unequivocally in Moore’s corner.

Senate Republicans say that if Moore insists on staying in the race, they have little chance of finding another candidate who could win the race with a write-in campaign.

Some believe it may be better for Democratic candidate Jones to win the seat than for Moore to come to Washington.

“If this choice is between Roy Moore and a Democrat, a Democrat. For sure,” Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeGOP senator: Senate should be 'disgusted' by Helsinki summit Flake to introduce resolution countering Trump's Russia summit rhetoric Senate GOP poised to break record on Trump's court picks MORE (R-Ariz.) told reporters Monday.

The seat will be up for election again in 2020, and there’s a good chance Republicans can win it back then.

If Moore wins the race, GOP leaders worry he will become a liability for other Senate Republican candidates in 2018, just like former Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin was an albatross for others in 2012 after he coined the phrase “legitimate rape.”

NRSC Chairman Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerSenators urge DOJ to probe whether Russians posed as Islamic extremist hackers to harass US military families GOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh Overnight Defense: VA pick breezes through confirmation hearing | House votes to move on defense bill negotiations | Senate bill would set 'stringent' oversight on North Korea talks MORE (R-Colo.) on Monday called for a Senate vote to expel Moore if he is elected, but that proposal does not have universal support in the conference.

Some GOP colleagues voiced concern at a lunch Tuesday that it could set a dangerous precedent to vote to expel someone for something done before that person was elected to the Senate.

The Senate Ethics Committee has a long-standing practice of not investigating conduct that occurred prior to a senator’s election to the upper chamber.

McConnell said Tuesday that Moore would face an ethics probe if elected, but that would set a new standard of practice that some of his Republican colleagues find alarming.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThis week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick McConnell: Senate to confirm Kavanaugh by Oct. 1 MORE (R-Maine), a prominent moderate, said after studying the law she has concluded that the GOP conference would have to seat Moore if he wins.

Senate Republican sources say there will also be an effort to pressure Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) and state party officials to pull their support from Moore.

If the state party disqualifies Moore as its nominee and he still wins the race, then the results of the special election would be nullified.

“We need to put pressure on the governor and the legislative leaders to intervene,” said a GOP senator who had been briefed Tuesday on the options for keeping the Alabama Senate seat in Republican hands.

State party officials are expected to meet this week to discuss what to do about Moore.

But Republican strategists in Alabama warn there will be little desire within the state party to overturn the results of a primary election because of sexual misconduct that allegedly occurred decades ago. GOP leaders may argue to state leaders that Moore has little chance of keeping the seat in Republican hands.

One Alabama Republican connected to state party leaders predicted that Ivey and other officials would not want to risk a backlash from Moore’s supporters and would let the matter “settle itself” one way or another.

Republican leaders are also scrambling for a candidate with strong name identification to run as a write-in candidate.

McConnell says his top preference is for Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsRyan: 'The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally' Conservatives moving to impeach Rosenstein soon: report Senators urge DOJ to probe whether Russians posed as Islamic extremist hackers to harass US military families MORE to run for the seat he held from 1997 until joining the Trump administration earlier this year.

But Sessions has signaled through intermediaries that he’s not interested in making an uncertain bid for his old job.

Strange, who lost the primary to Moore in September, reiterated to reporters Wednesday that the chances of him running a write-in campaign are “highly unlikely.”

Jordan Fabian contributed