MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Roy Moore, the failed U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama who was accused of sexual misconduct by several women when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s, announced Thursday that he will run again for the seat.
“Yes, I will run for the United States Senate in 2020,” Moore said, adding, “Can I win? Yes, I can. Not only can I, they know I can.”
Moore, a former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice, was defeated by former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, a Democrat, in a 2017 special election after a bruising campaign for what was widely viewed as a safe seat for Alabama Republicans. The race was rocked by the allegations from nine women alleging Moore had pursued relationships with them when they were teenagers or young women.
Moore denied the allegations — first reported by The Washington Post — and characterized them as being politically motivated.
Asked what he plans to do differently this time around, Moore said, "I would like to make more personal contact with people. I mean, we did last time with rallies, we did with different things. But I’d like to get out personally, home parties, more personal contact, and travel the state. People of Alabama know me. That’s one thing I don’t have a problem with."
President Donald Trump had initially endorsed Sen. Luther Strange, Moore’s rival in the 2017 Republican primary for the seat, which was left vacant when Trump appointed former Sen. Jeff Sessions as his attorney general. But days before voters headed to the polls in the special Senate election that December, the president bucked the party leadership and delivered a full-throated endorsement of Moore at an Alabama rally.
Last month, however, Trump said that he does not want Moore to make another run for the seat.
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"Republicans cannot allow themselves to again lose the Senate seat in the Great State of Alabama," Trump tweeted. "This time it will be for Six Years, not just Two. I have NOTHING against Roy Moore, and unlike many other Republican leaders, wanted him to win. But he didn’t, and probably won’t."
Trump added, "Roy Moore cannot win, and the consequences will be devastating. ... Judges and Supreme Court Justices!"
After Moore's announcement Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made clear, "We'll be opposing Roy Moore vigorously."
A spokesman for the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with McConnell, said in a statement that "most Alabama Republicans realize that nominating Roy Moore would be gift-wrapping this Senate seat for Chuck Schumer."
"It remains to be seen whether Moore can escape his baggage without his candidacy collapsing under its own weight, regardless of what groups on the outside do," the spokesman, Jack Pandol, said in the statement.
However, an April poll from Mason-Dixon Polling and Strategy showed Moore leading the Republican field for the party’s 2020 nomination to challenge Jones.
The poll found Moore leading among could-be GOP candidates with 27 percent and with a net approval rating in the state — 34 percent of voters view him favorably compared to 29 percent who do not.
Asked why he was not following Trump's wishes, Moore said Thursday, "I’m not going against President Trump at all. I support President Trump. I’ll vote for President Trump. Whether he votes for me or not, we’ll see — I’m sure he will when I get in the general election. But I’m going for the people of Alabama. I don’t represent Washington, D.C."
Moore lost the 2017 special election by fewer than 21,000 votes in what had been considered a solid GOP seat. Nearly 23,000 Alabamians, including Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, wrote in alternative names to Moore or Jones.
Moore asserted in a tweet Wednesday that he would have won that election if Shelby had "stayed out" of the race. Shelby told NBC News on Wednesday that Sessions is still considering a bid and suggested that he would be a "formidable candidate."
Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told NBC News on Wednesday that Alabama had already "rejected Roy Moore, and I don't see a whole lot that has changed since then."
Moore joins a roster of GOP candidates that includes former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville, as well as U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, Alabama State Rep. Arnold Mooney and former television evangelist Stanley Adair.
Another possible candidate, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, told NBC that he will make an announcement next week on whether he’ll enter the fray.
Jones, meanwhile, said in a tweet Thursday that his opponents would either be "extremist Roy Moore or an extremist handpicked by Mitch McConnell to be part of his legislative graveyard team."
A day earlier, Jones had declined to directly address Moore's possible candidacy.
"We feel very good about where we are in the campaign," he said. "I’ll just let them all fight it out.”