BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The retired construction company owner winced Friday when asked how he's feeling about the Senate race between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones in this Deep South stronghold that overwhelmingly favored President Trump.
Like many among the lunchtime crowd outside Niki's West, a popular Southern-style buffet in downtown Birmingham, the last thing he wanted to talk about was "all this sex stuff" about Moore having improper relations with teenagers decades ago.
"I'm a Republican. I'm really struggling," said the 80-year-old, declining to give his name. "I don't know what I'm going to do. Not vote?"
Others interviewed Friday expressed a similar kind of political fatigue that is particular to Alabama, which over the years has endured its share of embarrassing national headlines. The Dec. 12 special election to fill the seat held by Jeff Sessions, now Trump's attorney general, has again brought unwanted attention to their state.
"Alabama has been dealing with quite a bit of political disruption," said Gil Franks, a Republican who works at a state prison and is hoping a third candidate will emerge. "We got to get back to people doing the right thing."
He added: "I'm a Republican. ... That is the dilemma we face. It's a hard decision."
Voters expressed mixed views on the allegations against Moore, disclosed Thursday by The Washington Post. Some were shocked, others not so much. Many were full of suspicion about why these stories were emerging now, so long after they occurred, and so close to Election Day, so that ballots cannot be changed to allow a new candidate.
Moore denies allegations that he molested a 14-year-old girl when he was in his 30s and made sexual overtures toward other teens. He has shown no sign of stepping aside.
His strongest supporters, conservatives and Christians who powered his primary victory against the establishment and Trump-backed candidate, Sen. Luther Strange, are standing by him.
The former judge holds folk-hero-like stature in Alabama for refusing to abide by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage and, earlier, refusing to take down the Ten Commandment panels at the court. One refusal cost him his job, and after voters re-elected him, he later was forced to step aside.