The Moore mud splashes onto GOP candidates in other states
Roy Moore is already inflicting collateral damage on his party as Republican leaders scramble to quarantine the fallout to Alabama.
Roy Moore, GOP Senate candidate and former chief justice on the Alabama Supreme Court speaks during the annual Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit at the Omni Shorham Hotel on October 13, 2017 in Washington.Mark Wilson / Getty Images file
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WASHINGTON — The Roy Moore scandal isn't only an issue in Alabama — it's creating collateral damage problems for Republican candidates around the country.
GOP Senate hopefuls as far as away as Nevada and Michigan are already being forced to address the issue, putting them — especially if they’re facing a primary — in an awkward position between their base and the swing voters they’ll need in next year's general election.
In Indiana, where Sen. Joe Donnelly, a Democrat, faces one of his party's toughest re-election battles next year, Republicans are duking it out in a nasty primary. Democrats attacked one GOP candidate for putting out a memo earlier this year connecting his anti-establishment message to Moore's. And they’re hitting the two others for saying Moore should step aside only if the allegations are proven true.
"You have no place seeking to represent Hoosiers in Congress if you can’t even put aside partisanship to condemn a reported pedophile," said Indiana Democratic Party strategist Will Baskin-Gerwitz.
In Ohio, where GOP Senate candidate Josh Mandel has cultivated Moore allies like Steve Bannon in his challenge to Sen. Sherrod Brown, Democrats have repeatedly blasted Mandel for declining to comment on the Moore allegations. "You can say we didn’t respond," Mandel's spokesperson told the AP.
"Unless Josh Mandel categorically calls on Moore to end his vomit-inducing, skin-crawling Senate race, Josh is tacitly endorsing the rest of this alleged pedophile’s campaign," said Ohio Democratic Party spokesperson Jake Strassberger.
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Moore has denied all the allegations of misconduct. And Bannon, the former White House strategist, and the Alabama Republican Party are sticking with him, even as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who previously held the Senate seat, along with many other Republicans, say they believe the women.
Democrats are hard at work pressing the issue, dusting off the 2012 playbook they used to make former GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin toxic to candidates across the country.
"There has to be clarity by all candidates about the issue of sexual harassment and specifically about the candidacy of Roy Moore," Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate's second-ranking Democrat, told NBC News.
After scoring an unexpected suburbs-fueled landslide in Virginia's election this month, Democratic officials and party strategists think Moore will be especially radioactive with suburban women.
The Democratic opposition research group American Bridge launched digital ads Wednesday attacking GOP Senate candidates about Moore in Arizona and Ohio, and was already running one in Nevada.
"Not only is the Roy Moore scandal hurting Republicans of all stripes, especially those who have been silent on Moore, but it's also exacerbating the GOP civil war between the establishment and the Bannon wing of the party," said American Bridge spokesperson Allison Teixeira Sulier.
"The GOP owns Moore, his scandals and his backwards beliefs," Sulier added. "And in the same way that Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock dragged their party down, Moore will, too."
A few months after Akin made headlines for talking about "legitimate rape" in Missouri, Indiana Senate candidate Mourdock handed more ammunition to Democrats when he defended his strict pro-life stance by saying pregnancy resulting in rape is "something that God intended to happen."
Democrats used Aiken and Mourdock in races in other states to portray other Republican candidates as extreme.
In Michigan, where Democrats are defending Sen. Debbie Stabenow's seat, Democratic Party Chair Brandon Dillon slammed both of the GOP candidates in the race for failing to "show the bare minimum of decency and leadership" by speaking out strongly against Moore.
Concern about collateral damage helps explain why one of the most forceful voices against Moore among Senate Republicans has been the chairman of their campaign arm, Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, who vowed the Senate should expel Moore if he wins.
The 2018 election is still a year away, but Moore would continue to cause trouble for Republicans in the Senate if he wins, leading many to conclude he's not worth the baggage. That has Democrats bullish about Doug Jones, their candidate in Alabama.
“I think Roy Moore is going to be a footnote because by this time next year, Doug Jones will be in the Senate," said Sen. Brown of Ohio.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., who has represented the state for 30 years, said on Wednesday that he's preparing to vote for a write-in candidate over Moore in the Dec. 12 election.
Asked by NBC News if Moore is damaging the GOP brand nationally, Shelby didn’t hesitate: "Absolutely. Absolutely. I think that's on everybody's mind."
Alex Seitz-Wald is senior digital politics reporter for NBC News.