National Republicans, including one of the biggest voices in conservative media, are pressuring Alabama's GOP to stop a defiant Roy Moore from persisting in his campaign for the Senate. Many are voicing hopes that President Donald Trump can use his clout to resolve a problem that Republicans say leaves them with no easy options.
On the ground in Alabama, however, the fierce intraparty battle grew nastier Wednesday as the Dec. 12 special election grows nearer.
As Washington Republicans threatened to expel Moore from the Senate if elected, Alabama GOP leaders highlighted state party rules that could allow them to crack down on Alabama officials who support anyone other than Moore, who is facing multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. At the same time, a misleading phone message seeking to undermine those allegations hit the state and Moore's wife lashed out at The Washington Post, which first reported them.
"This is an all-out assault which is why we are suing them," Kayla Moore wrote on her Facebook page.
With Alabama Republicans reluctant to block Moore and enrage his legions of loyal conservative supporters, national GOP leaders were turning to Trump. Two women by name have said Moore molested them in the 1970s when one was 14 and the other 16 and he was a local deputy district attorney, and three others have said he pursued romantic relationships with them around the same time.
The Republican National Committee, with the Trump White House's blessing, ended its relationship with Moore late Tuesday, withdrawing roughly a dozen paid staff that had been working to help him and ending a joint fundraising agreement.
Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity joined the GOP critics during his show Tuesday evening, calling on Moore to explain "inconsistencies" in his response to allegations of child molestation or exit the Alabama race.
"We deserve answers — consistent answers — and truth," said Hannity, who is generally among the most reliable and consistent media supporters of President Trump and the conservative cause.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in all-out political warfare with Moore, said he spoke about Moore to the president, Vice President Mike Pence and White House chief of staff John Kelly, with more conversations planned.
"He's obviously not fit to be in the United States Senate, and we've looked at all the options to try to prevent that from happening," said McConnell, who said on Monday that he believed Moore's accusers. "This close to election, it's a complicated matter.'"
At the "God Save America" Conference later Tuesday in Jackson, Alabama, Moore said there is a "spiritual battle" going on in American politics.
"Why do you think they're giving me this trouble?" he asked the Baptist church audience. "Why do you think I'm being harassed in the media and people pushing for an allegation in the last 28 days of the election?"
Twice removed from his post as state Supreme Court chief Justice, Moore confronts Republicans with two damaging potential election outcomes. A victory saddles GOP senators with a colleague accused of abusing and harassing teenagers, a troubling liability heading into next year's congressional elections, while an upset victory by Democrat Doug Jones would slice the already narrow GOP Senate majority to an unwieldy 51-49.
Meanwhile, Alabama pastor, Al Moore, says he has received a phone message from someone claiming to be a Washington Post reporter who's willing to pay thousands of dollars for dirt on Moore. The message, which appears to be false, gives a bogus Washington Post email address for people to send tips about Moore.
The executive editor of the Washington Post, Marty Baron, has issued a statement saying the caller is not with the Post and the reporting method described in the call "bears no relationship to reality."
Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Congress he has "no reason to doubt" the women. Sessions, whose former Senate seat is the one at stake, didn't rule out a Justice Department probe of the allegations, telling the House Judiciary Committee, "We will evaluate every case as to whether or not it should be investigated."
There is no sign, however, that Sessions would embrace calls by some GOP leaders to lead a write-in campaign to take Moore's place. Others have encouraged current Sen. Luther Strange, Moore's primary opponent, to go for a write-in win.
State GOP leaders have highlighted party rules in recent days that could deny ballot access to any elected official who supported a write-in candidate.
It's already too late to remove Moore's name from the ballot. That leaves the state party with limited options.
The 21-member party steering committee could vote to revoke Moore's GOP nomination and ask election officials to ignore ballots cast for him Election Day, but that would risk a lawsuit and backlash from Moore supporters. The party has little interest in alienating Moore's followers a year before elections in which the governor's office and entire state legislature will be in play, but it remains possible.
In an interview, Moore campaign chairman Bill Armistead said he'd seen no indication the state party will "back off in any way." He said some in the party want it to pass a resolution embracing Moore.
A spokesman for GOP Gov. Kay Ivey reiterated that she would not postpone the election to give Moore's opponents more time to organize. That would spark a legal challenge, but a possible delay remains an option, Republicans say.
Peoples reported from Birmingham, Alabama. AP reporters Alan Fram, Andrew Taylor and Matthew Daly in Washington and Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama contributed to this report.