Republicans' lock on an Alabama seat in the U.S. Senate was thrown into doubt Thursday when the party's religious-right candidate was accused of initiating a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl when he was 32.
The explosive allegation, in a Washington Post report, led Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and other Senate Republicans to call on Roy Moore to abandon his candidacy in the Dec. 12 special election -- if the charge is true.
Moore, 70, a former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, called the accusation "completely false."
Nonetheless, a seat long viewed as safely Republican was suddenly looking less so. At a time when Republicans hold a narrow 52-seat majority in the Senate, GOP leaders were alarmed, all the more so after the party was thrashed in elections on Tuesday.
"They cannot afford to lose this," said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
Moore, whose open bigotry has embarrassed Republicans in less conservative parts of the country, was never warmly embraced by national GOP leaders. The Post report came amid a burst of sexual harassment and assault allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and other prominent men in entertainment, business, politics and the news media.
Leigh Corfman, now 53, told the Post that Moore first approached her when she was sitting with her mother on a bench outside an Alabama courtroom down the hall from his office.
Moore got her phone number and, days later, took her on a 30-minute drive to his home in the woods, where he kissed her and told her she was pretty, according to Corfman.
On a second visit, he took off her shirt and pants, stripped to his underwear, touched her over her bra and underpants, and guided her hand to touch his crotch, she told the Post.
She said she asked him to take her home, and he did.