MOBILE, Ala. — Roy Moore is on the warpath against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
As Republicans here reckon with allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore, their nominee in next month's Senate election is trying to turn the race into a referendum on whether McConnell has spent too much time on Alabama politics and too little advancing President Donald Trump's agenda in Washington.
There are signs that his attacks are resonating with Republicans in some corners of Alabama.
"I'm picking up a strong sense that people are not happy that people from outside the state, particularly the Washington establishment, are trying to come in and influence the election," Noah Wahl, the GOP chairman in north Alabama's Limestone County, said when asked about McConnell. "He is kind of the whipping boy."
The fight with McConnell — which gives Moore a tool to stoke his own base, rally other anti-establishment Republicans and distract from the allegations against him — has all but eclipsed the rest of his message at a time when many consider his race against Democrat Doug Jones to be competitive.
In a series of tweets Thursday, Moore accused McConnell of trying to "steal the election from the people of Alabama," said McConnell "needs to step down," and criticized how McConnell handled recent allegations of sexual misconduct.
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The bad blood runs deep: McConnell's camp spent millions of dollars trying to stop Moore from winning the nomination in the primary fight against Sen. Luther Strange, and then the Republican majority leader himself said Moore should drop out because his accusers were credible.
But it's McConnell, not Moore, who ought to quit, according to Moore and his supporters.
"I think he needs to step down. I don't think he's doing what his job is. Period," said Tim Myer, 56, co-owner of Bob's Tires in Attalla, in the northeast section of the state, and a Moore donor. "The American people voted Trump in as president and McConnell is going against everything the president is trying to do. He needs to be the person to support the president."
The charged that McConnell has been too involved in Alabama resonates not only with Moore voters but also with Republicans who once supported a third contestant in the GOP primary, Rep. Mo Brooks, only to watch McConnell allies rough him up. The claim that McConnell has to go frames Moore as a champion of Trump, who won the Alabama presidential primary with a strong plurality of 43 percent in 2016.
Right now, Alabama voters are sorting into three camps: Die-hard Moore supporters; fellow Republicans who aren't certain they can pull the lever for him; and Jones backers in both parties. Moore's attack on McConnell is a hard play for the middle group.
In his telling, Moore has been the victim of baseless attacks not only from his accusers, Democrats and the media but also from national Republicans. They're scared of a hard-line conservative coming to Washington to help Trump "drain the swamp," Moore's supporters contend.
But what many Washington Republicans fear most is that Moore's election could cost them seats in other states in next year's midterm elections if there's a national backlash. Between the political peril and the moral quandary over the allegations against him, they've concluded he's more trouble than the Alabama Senate seat is worth.
The view from Alabama is much different. Party leaders here don't want to cede a seat the GOP has held for more than 20 years to a Democrat, and Moore is their best shot to keep it.
"There is a sharp policy contrast between Judge Moore, a conservative Republican who supports President Trump, and the liberal Democrat who will fight and thwart the agenda of our president," Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan said in a statement Thursday, illustrating the tension between the state and national parties. "We trust the Alabama voters in this election to have our beloved state and nation's best interest at heart."
Trump himself has broken with top Republican leaders in Washington by declining to pressure Moore to exit the race. He's said nothing about it publicly, and his press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, echoed Republicans here Thursday by saying the president "thinks that the people of Alabama should make the decision on who their next senator should be."
Trump's decision to position himself closer to the Alabama GOP than to the Senate majority leader shows the power of the argument that McConnell's been meddling too much.
"He is perhaps you could say the No. 1 target," Wahl said. "McConnell has put himself out there in the lead position."