GOP leaders dead set against Roy Moore in Alabama

Republicans in Washington are dead set against Judge Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreThe job no GOP senator wants: 'I'd rather have a root canal' Former AG Sessions enters Alabama Senate race Campaign ad casts Sessions as a 'traitor' ahead of expected Senate run MORE being the party’s Senate nominee in Alabama next year and say they will do whatever is possible to prevent that from happening.

Moore is expected to announce a decision soon on whether to challenge Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), a top Republican target, and a new poll shows him leading a field of possible GOP Senate candidates. 

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Moore, 72, lost to Jones in a 2017 special election after several women accused him of making sexual advances on them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.  

Senate GOP officials say it would be a disaster if Moore is the party’s nominee.

“It would be the top priority, making sure he didn’t win the primary,” said a Senate Republican strategist. “I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

A Mason-Dixon poll released Tuesday showed Moore leading a field of potential Republican candidates, with 27 percent support among registered Republicans. 

The runner up, former Rep. Mo BrooksMorris (Mo) Jackson BrooksTrump takes pulse of GOP on Alabama Senate race The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Dems unveil impeachment measure; Vindman splits GOP Jeff Sessions calling Alabama lawmakers about 2020 Senate bid MORE (R-Ala.), garnered 18 percent, while Rep. Bradley ByrneBradley Roberts ByrneIsraeli, Palestinian business leaders seek Trump boost for investment project Sessions vows to 'work for' Trump endorsement Trump attends football game with Jeff Sessions' Alabama Senate race opponent Bradley Byrne MORE (R-Ala.) tallied 13 percent.   

The GOP strategist questioned the significance of the poll, arguing “it’s way too early.” 

A second Senate GOP strategist said “if Roy Moore wins the nomination, Republicans lose the seat. Full stop.”

“There’s no way on earth Roy Moore can be handed the nomination so he can turn around and give the seat back to Democrats. This is a seat that belongs in the hands of Alabama Republicans, not Democrats,” the strategist added. 

The strategist said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is in step with the National Republican Senatorial Committee and “every single Republican in the Senate who is interested in passing legislation or stopping legislation in the Senate.”  

McConnell called on Moore to “step aside” in 2017 after stories about him pursuing teenage girls surfaced. “I believe the women,” McConnell said at the time. 

Bill Armistead, Moore’s 2017 campaign chairman, declined to comment on opposition from Senate Republicans to Moore’s 2020 candidacy. 

Moore told Republican activists this past weekend that he would announce his decision on a Senate run in the next several weeks. 

Moore said in an interview on American Family Radio last month that he is “seriously considering it” and said the 2017 Senate race was “stolen.”

If Moore does run, it’s an open question whether President TrumpDonald John TrumpPence: It's not a "foregone conclusion" that lawmakers impeach Trump FBI identifies Pensacola shooter as Saudi Royal Saudi Air Force second lieutenant Trump calls Warren 'Pocahontas,' knocks wealth tax MORE would back him.

Trump endorsed Moore in the 2017 special election when other Republicans were calling on Moore to withdraw. 

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“The most influential person in the primary down there would be Donald Trump because everybody saw what his endorsement did for Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantis FBI identifies Pensacola shooter as Saudi Royal Saudi Air Force second lieutenant Overnight Defense: Suspect in Pensacola shooting identified as Saudi aviation student | Trump speaks with Saudi king after shooting | Esper denies considering 14K deployment to Mideast Suspect in deadly Pensacola air station shooting a Saudi national MORE, so that might be the most important thing,” said Jim McLaughlin, a Republican pollster who has done work in Alabama. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis cruised to victory in the 2018 gubernatorial race's Republican primary on the back of Trump’s endorsement. 

Trump followed McConnell’s lead during the 2017 special election primary by endorsing the GOP incumbent, former Sen. Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangeState 'certificate of need' laws need to go GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries Roy Moore trails Republican field in Alabama MORE (R-Ala.), but the move backfired when Moore won a stunning upset. It was one of the few times when Trump was out of step with Republican primary voters. 

If Trump endorsed Moore, it could pave his path to victory in the primary, if not the general election. 

Moore would have to win a majority of the vote in the March 3, 2020, primary to avoid a runoff election in April.

McLaughlin says Trump is unlikely to back Moore in a primary after he lost what Republicans initially thought would be a sure-fire GOP win in the 2017 special election for former Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe shifting impeachment positions of Jonathan Turley Rosenstein, Sessions discussed firing Comey in late 2016 or early 2017: FBI notes Justice Dept releases another round of summaries from Mueller probe MORE’s (R-Ala.) seat. 

“I think after everything that happened, I don’t see the White House being big fans of Roy Moore right now,” he said. 

Senate Republicans control 53 seats but the 2020 electoral map favors Democrats. GOP candidates will have to defend 22 seats — including in Colorado and Maine, which voted for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats battle for Hollywood's cash The House Judiciary Committee's fundamental choice Sanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire MORE in 2016. 

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law | Michigan governor seeks to pause Medicaid work requirements | New front in fight over Medicaid block grants House, Senate Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law Why a second Trump term and a Democratic Congress could be a nightmare scenario for the GOP MORE (N.Y.) needs to pick up four seats — or three seats and Democratic control of the White House — to become majority leader. That task becomes harder if Jones loses his reelection, something many in Washington consider likely unless he runs against a particularly weak Republican candidate. 

Jones, a former U.S. attorney, became the first Democrat to win a Senate race in Alabama in 25 years by beating Moore handily among women and college educated voters — two demographics that McConnell has identified as key targets in 2020.

Jones outperformed Moore by 16 points among female voters and 11 points among college graduates, according to exit polling. 

McConnell told reporters last week that his priority going into 2020 is to improve the performance of GOP candidates among women and college-educated voters. 

McConnell believes Republicans lost key Senate and House races in 2018 because “we got crushed in the suburbs.” 

“We lost college graduates and women in the suburbs, which led in the House to loses in suburban Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Charleston, South Carolina,” he told a small group of reporters last week. “We’re determined not to lose women, certainly not by 19 points, and college graduates in our Senate races and I don’t think we will."

A Moore candidacy in Alabama could also hurt Republicans running in other states, as Democrats would seek to link Moore and his problems to his potential GOP colleagues.  

Washington Republicans, however, must be careful in how they tackle Moore.

He used their support for Strange in 2017 against the incumbent senator by ramping up his assault on the GOP establishment. It was an effective tactic at a time when many Republican primary voters were bitterly disappointed by the party’s failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act in the summer of that year. 

Moore attacked Strange in their final debate for being the beneficiary of ads funded by the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC linked to McConnell. 

Moore lashed out against what he called the “scurrilous, false and deceiving ads” funded out of Washington by “a Super PAC designed to keep people there they want to keep there.”