RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Alabama Republican Roy Moore is planning a comeback. Two years ago, he lost a bid for the Senate in the deep red state to a Democrat, Doug Jones. The race was dominated by allegations of past sexual assault and misconduct by Moore against teenage girls. Moore has repeatedly denied those allegations. NPR's Debbie Elliott is in Montgomery, where Roy Moore announced his candidacy yesterday.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Morning.
MARTIN: What makes Roy Moore think he can win a second time around?
ELLIOTT: Well, he says it's different, that he could have won last time if not for what he called false tactics used by Democratic operatives. He sounded very confident.
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ROY MOORE: Can I win? Yes, I can win. Not only can I, they know I can. That's why there's such opposition.
ELLIOTT: They, of course, being the Washington establishment that the conservative firebrand railed against during his last campaign. He also said he might change up his strategy a bit this time by making more personal contact with people.
MARTIN: So when he says false tactics used by Democratic operatives, I mean, is he alluding to the allegations of sexual assault and misconduct that were levied against him?
ELLIOTT: That and there - you know, some Democratic operatives, it has been reported, used what they called Russian-style tactics to promote information out on the Internet against Roy Moore during that campaign.
MARTIN: But he clearly doesn't think that - I mean, the sexual allegations stuff got the attention of national Republicans, who seemed to think that he was toxic for the party. I mean, leading congressional Republicans were against him, even President Trump was against him. That hasn't changed...
MARTIN: ...Has it?
ELLIOTT: No, it has not. In fact, right after Moore announced, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters, we're opposing Roy Moore vigorously. But it should not be surprising that that has not dissuaded Roy Moore. This is a very familiar defiance that has defined his entire career. We should remind our listeners that Moore was twice ousted as Alabama chief justice for defying federal courts first over a big Ten Commandments monument that he put in the state judicial building and then for rejecting the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that legalized same-sex marriage. Moore is accusing national Republicans of planning a smear campaign against him this time around. Here's what he said.
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MOORE: Why does my - mere mention of my name cause people just to get up in arms in Washington, D.C.?
ELLIOTT: Well, the answer is that Republicans really see an opportunity in Alabama to win back this U.S. Senate seat. Republicans typically win all the statewide races here. That seat was formerly held by Jeff Sessions. Now Moore is complicating things.
MARTIN: So it was - I mean, by all accounts, it was a historic win for Doug Jones, right? - that a Democrat would win this seat. Is Jones worried?
ELLIOTT: You know, I think that Jones definitely knows he's vulnerable. The fact that Roy Moore now is in this could almost be a gift for his reelection campaign. Here's what he said yesterday.
DOUG JONES: And the real issue now to me is, you know, who comes out. But we're either going to have an extremist like Roy Moore or, quite frankly, we're going to have an extremist that's going to be handpicked by Mitch McConnell.
ELLIOTT: Now the scuttle in Montgomery suggests that Alabama's other senator, Richard Shelby, and others are trying to convince former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to seek his old seat and clear the field.
MARTIN: NPR's Debbie Elliott.
ELLIOTT: You're welcome.
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