WASHINGTON (AP) — A second woman abruptly emerged Monday to accuse Roy Moore of sexually assaulting her when she was 16 in the late 1970s, this time in a locked car, further roiling the Alabama Republican's candidacy for an open Senate seat. Leaders of Moore's own party intensified their efforts to push him out of the race.
Anticipating a tearful Beverly Young Nelson's allegations at a New York news conference, Moore's campaign ridiculed her attorney, Gloria Allred, beforehand as "a sensationalist leading a witch hunt." The campaign said Moore was innocent and "has never had any sexual misconduct with anyone." He insisted he was in the race to stay.
In the latest day of jarring events, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Moore essentially declared open war on each other. McConnell said the former judge should quit the race over a series of recent allegations of past improper relationships with teenage girls. No, said Moore, the Kentucky senator is the one who should get out.
Cory Gardner of Colorado, who heads the Senate GOP's campaign organization, said not only should Moore step aside but if he should win "the Senate should vote to expel him because he does not meet the ethical and moral requirements of the United States Senate."
McConnell took a remarkably personal swipe at his party's candidate for a Senate seat the GOP cannot afford to lose. "I believe the women," he said, marking an intensified effort by leaders to ditch Moore before a Dec. 12 special election that has swung from an assured GOP victory to one that Democrats could conceivably swipe.
Moore, an outspoken Christian conservative and former state Supreme Court judge, fired back at McConnell on Twitter.
"The person who should step aside is @SenateMajLdr Mitch McConnell. He has failed conservatives and must be replaced. #DrainTheSwamp," Moore wrote.
Nelson's news conference came after that exchange and injected a new, sensational accusation in the story.
She said Moore was a regular customer at the restaurant where she worked after school in Gadsden, Alabama. She said he would talk to her and sometimes pull the ends of her hair, which she considered flirtatious but didn't bother her.
One night when she was 16, Moore offered to drive her home, she said, but instead parked the car behind the restaurant and touched her breasts and locked the door to keep her inside. She said he squeezed her neck while trying to push her head toward his crotch and tried to pull her shirt off.
Moore finally stopped and as she got out of the car, he warned her no one would believe because he was a county prosecutor, Nelson said. She said she quit her job the following day.
Nelson said that shortly before that, days before Christmas, she'd brought her high school yearbook to the restaurant and Moore signed it. A copy of her statement distributed at the news conference included a picture of what she said was his signature and a message saying, "To a sweeter more beautiful girl I could not say, 'Merry Christmas.'"
Nelson said she told her younger sister about the incident two years later, told her mother four years ago and told her husband before they married. She said she and her husband supported Donald Trump for president.
Last Thursday, The Washington Post reported that in 1979 when he was 32, Moore had sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl and pursued romantic relationships with three other teenage girls around the same period. The women made their allegations on the record and the Post cited two dozen other sources.
Moore has called the allegations "completely false and misleading," but in an interview last week he did not unequivocally rule out dating teenage girls when he was in his early 30s. Asked by conservative radio host Sean Hannity if that would have been usual for him, Moore said, "It would have been out of my customary behavior."
McConnell, speaking Monday at an event in Louisville, Kentucky, said Moore "should step aside" and acknowledged that a write-in effort by another candidate was possible. He said, "We'll see," when asked if the Republican alternative could be Sen. Luther Strange, whom Moore ousted in a September party primary.
But Strange told reporters late Monday "a write-in candidacy is highly unlikely."
McConnell's comment pushed him further than he'd gone last Thursday, when he said Moore should exit the race if the allegations were true.
McConnell and Moore have had an openly antagonistic history for some time. Moore was backed during his primary campaign by Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump's former chief White House adviser who is openly seeking GOP Senate challengers who will pledge to dump McConnell. A political action committee linked to McConnell spent heavily but unsuccessfully on Strange's behalf.
The tumult comes with Republicans holding a scant 52-48 Senate majority as the GOP rushes to push a massive tax cut through Congress by Christmas. Facing near-certain unanimous opposition by Democrats, Republicans can lose just two GOP senators, and a Democratic pickup in Alabama would narrow their margin of error to just one.
On the other hand, a Moore victory would open the party to relentless Democratic attacks in next year's midterm elections, when Republicans will be defending their House and Senate majorities.
No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas said he'd withdrawn his endorsement of Moore. He said the accusations are, "if true, disqualifying." He said Moore's political fate should be left to Alabama's voters.
By Monday afternoon, Moore was showing no signs of folding.
He assured supporters Sunday night at a Huntsville, Alabama, gym that the Post article was "fake news" and "a desperate attempt to stop my political campaign."
He said allegations that he was involved with a minor are "untrue" and the newspaper "will be sued." The former judge also questioned why such allegations would be leveled for the first time so close to the special election in spite of his decades in public life.
Democrats in Washington seemed content to keep their distance from their Alabama candidate, prosecutor Doug Jones, who until recently seemed to have little chance.
"If they ask us for things, we're going to try to help them, but it's an Alabama race, and the Jones campaign is running it on its own," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
The Jones campaign released a statement Monday saying: "We applaud the courage of these women. Roy Moore will be held accountable by the people of Alabama for his actions."