ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell this morning said that he now believes the allegations of four women who say that Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore made sexual advances toward them when they were teenagers.
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MITCH MCCONNELL: I believe the women, yes.
SIEGEL: This was before a fifth woman came forward today with new allegations that Moore sexually assaulted her when she was 16 years old in the 1970s. Senator McConnell is calling on Moore to get out of the race. Moore says no way. Republicans are now considering a write-in campaign for the December 12 special election. And joining us now to discuss all this is NPR's congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Hiya.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Robert.
SIEGEL: When The Washington Post first reported these allegations last week, most Republicans, including Senator Mitch McConnell, said Moore should step aside only if these allegations are true - if. Today he says he believes the women. What happened?
DAVIS: I think it has become increasingly clear to the Republican Party establishment and many in the rank and file that they just cannot support Roy Moore as a candidate for the United States Senate. This is a race that has the ability to impact political races far outside of Alabama and to sour voters, particularly women voters, on the Republican Party.
After McConnell made his statement today, we have seen a wave of senators like Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Todd Young of Indiana all echoed that call for Roy Moore to step aside. I think Republicans are making the calculation that it's better for the long-term health of the party to potentially lose a Senate seat than to stand behind this candidate who's been accused of varying degrees of sexual misconduct towards very young women.
SIEGEL: Yeah. And I mentioned the fifth woman who came forward today to accuse Roy Moore of sexual misconduct. What actually is she alleging?
DAVIS: Her name is Beverly Young Nelson. Like the other four women, she says this happened nearly 40 years ago. She was 16 years old. She was a waitress. This is when Moore was a district attorney and a regular in her restaurant. She appeared alongside her attorney, Gloria Allred, in New York today. And she alleges that more sexually assaulted her in his car behind the restaurant one night after he had offered to give her a ride home. Here's Young Nelson.
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BEVERLY YOUNG NELSON: And he then looked at me, and he told me - he said, you're just a child. And he said, I am the district attorney of Etowah County. And if you tell anyone about this, no one will ever believe you.
DAVIS: Now, Roy Moore has not denied that he has dated younger women earlier in his life, but he has denied any allegations of sexual misconduct. His campaign, in a statement, called this a witch hunt, and Moore has said he has never had any sexual misconduct with anyone.
SIEGEL: Republicans say they're considering a write-in campaign for the Senate seat in Alabama. How likely is that, and who are the potential candidates?
DAVIS: Politically it is incredibly difficult to win a write-in election. This election is just five weeks away. In order to do that, it would require a candidate with significant political name ID. The two names I've heard floated today from Republican sources are Senator Luther Strange, who was appointed to fill this seat - that was Jeff Sessions' seat earlier this year - lost the primary to Moore - and yes, Attorney General Jeff Sessions. This is his Senate seat, and he's still incredibly popular in the state.
SIEGEL: So if it was Strange, he would be the man who was just defeated in the Republican primary to see who would succeed Sessions. That would be a trick.
DAVIS: That is very true. And I would say the Sessions talk is very serious among Senate Republicans. What's unclear is Sessions has any interest in this. He says the attorney general job is the best job he's ever had. This might just be a little bit of political fantasy on the part of Senate Republicans.
SIEGEL: Roy Moore has - shows no sign of getting out of the race. What do you think? Can he still win?
DAVIS: He still can win. It's still a deeply conservative state. But if he does win, it may not end there. Republican Senator Cory Gardner, who runs the Senate campaign operation, today said if he does win, the Senate should vote to expel him.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Susan Davis on Capitol Hill. Thanks.
DAVIS: You're welcome.
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