HUNTSVILLE, Ala. ― At the monthly meeting of the Madison County Republican Men’s Club here on Saturday, the subject at hand was Judge Roy Moore. You could tell from the way people kept talking about anyone and anything else, such as Sen. Al Franken.
The keynote speaker of the event, for which nearly 200 Moore supporters shared breakfast inside a Methodist church’s gymnasium, was Tommy Battle, Huntsville’s mayor and gubernatorial candidate. Battle noticeably avoided any mention of Moore despite standing nestled among gigantic Roy Moore election posters. He spoke about veterans, jobs, the economy and the great state of Alabama, but never mentioned the judge during his speech.
Another speaker, local criminal court Judge Chess Bedsole, also tiptoed around Moore, but drew an audible reaction when he mentioned the senator from Minnesota by name.
“I read in Politico that Doug Jones is taking money from Democratic senators,” Bedsole said to the crowd. “The four Senators that gave him the most are, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and our good friend, Al Franken.”
He added: “If you want those people telling our senator how to vote and what to do, that’s what you’ll be voting for if you vote for Doug Jones. That’s a story that didn’t make the rounds yet and we need to start pushing.”
As this state inches closer to its Dec. 12 special election, Moore’s bid for the Senate has become a candidate-less candidacy. He has been accused of sexual misconduct by several women, including one who was 14 when he allegedly assaulted her during his time as a prosecutor.
No Republican here wants to talk about the elephant in the room, and when given the opportunity, they usually don’t. Attending a Roy Moore election event in Alabama these days is awkward ― rarely do state politicians even utter his name, let alone take sides in front of constituents.
Instead, they’ve attacked his opponent, Doug Jones, his accusers, or the Washington establishment. It’s the safe move, keeping Moore at arm’s length while reminding voters of their real enemies.
And their delicate dance around the subject of Moore became a little easier when a Democratic senator got caught up in a sexual misconduct scandal of his own, complete with damning photos and an admission of wrongdoing. Franken and the national Republicans who ditched Moore are the state GOP’s new punching bags.
Moore himself has latched onto the idea that he’s being unfairly treated by the national GOP and the Republican senators who have called for him to step aside. He and the politicians speaking at his events over the past week have taken aim at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, claiming that Moore is the victim of a political hit job while Franken hasn’t suffered a slap on the wrist. (In fact, McConnell called for an ethics investigation, and Democrats are furious with Franken.)
Al Franken admits guilt after photographic evidence of his abuse surfaces.— Judge Roy Moore (@MooreSenate) November 16, 2017
Mitch: "Let's investigate."
In Alabama, ZERO evidence, allegations 100% rejected.
Mitch: "Moore must quit immediately or be expelled."
Moore’s supporters have followed suit, and the finger tends to point at Franken when they’re called out.
An Alabama police chief under fire for alleging that Doug Jones “fondled me on a boy scout camping trip” on Facebook told reporters he was only joking. Killen police Chief Bryan Hammond said that another of his assertions in the social media post ― that “silence is consent” ― was directed at the lack of outrage over Franken’s scandal and not at victims of sexual assault.
Some Moore supporters HuffPost spoke to acknowledge that state Republicans appear to be deflecting until either definitive proof, or election day, comes.
“They’ve been coached to stay on point, so to speak, and not allow themselves to get dragged down into areas where there are big question marks because then they won’t have press coming back at them later,” said Dallas Terrell, director of engagement for the Alabama Minority GOP and a Moore supporter who was at the church event.
Terrell agreed with Moore, though, that there’s a double standard between Moore and Franken.
“Part of the problem,” he said, “is that because [Franken was] an entertainer, we don’t take him as serious, whereas if the judge was doing it, that’s a huge problem.”
Moore’s opposition is worried that local Republicans ― even the ones who have withdrawn their support ― are biding their time until the election, when they’ll vote for him anyway. At least some GOP officials, alongside state Gov. Kay Ivey, have already moved in that direction. Ivey has said she’d vote for him despite believing his accusers.
- This article originally appeared on HuffPost.