Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) delivered his harshest criticism to date against a fellow Republican early Saturday, calling for Alabama candidate Roy Moore to withdraw from the U.S. Senate special election and breaking the silence of his state party.
Maryland Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) — who endorsed Moore — were mum this past week after The Washington Post reported that the then-Alabama district attorney is alleged to have initiated a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl when he was in his 30s.
Moore attended Veterans Day political events in his district on Saturday, in which he defiantly dismissed the allegations as "fake news" and called them "deeply hurtful."
Hogan, in a statement, had sharp words for Moore's defenders, saying they "should ask themselves if they would be so quick to excuse him if the victim was their daughter or if the offender was a Democrat," he said through a spokesman.
Moore is "unfit for office and should step aside. Americans are better than this."
The comments are an unusual departure for Maryland's popular Republican governor, a moderate who has generally avoided entanglements within the national party and is careful of not being too critical of its leader, President Trump. Recently, however, the governor has publicly disagreed with the president on issues such as Trump's comments after the Confederate memorial rally in Charlottesville that turned violent this summer.
Hogan is facing a reelection challenge from Democrats eager to take back control of the governor's mansion in a state where registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans more than 2 to 1.
Maryland Democratic Party spokesman Fabion Seaton applauded Hogan's calls for Moore's withdrawal from the race but went further in questioning the broader Republican Party's acceptance of the former Alabama state judge's "homophobic, Islamophobic and white supremacist views."
"Calling on Moore to step aside is the decent thing to do," Seaton said in a statement. "But Governor Hogan must also examine why Moore's vile views were embraced by members of the Maryland Republican establishment."
He added that Hogan must call on Republicans such as Harris and Anne Arundel County Council member Michael Peroutka to "withdraw their endorsements" of Moore.
Hogan's election four years ago delivered a sharp rebuke to Democratic leaders, but with the ouster of Republican mayors in Maryland and victories in Virginia in the past week, the party shot off a warning to Hogan that momentum appears to be on their side.
Hogan enjoys one of the highest approval ratings of any governor in the country, boasts a robust campaign account and faces a field of relatively unknown Democratic challengers. He has resisted being drawn into national controversies and relied, instead, on a moderate bipartisan approach that polls find has appealed to most Marylanders.
But a Washington Post- University of Maryland poll in the spring found cracks emerging in Hogan's once-solid support, showing that some of Maryland's largely left-leaning voters will be monitoring how the governor responds to a White House that is unpopular with residents of the blue state.
Hogan's Democratic rivals have tried to tie the Republican to Trumpism, accusing him of standing idly by while they say the president undercuts Maryland values on issues such as health care, education and race relations. Still, nearly 1 in 6 Democrats approve of the governor amid Hogan's strategy of selectively picking his battles.
Eight candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination, including former NAACP head Ben Jealous; county executives Kevin B. Kamenetz and Rushern L. Baker III; state Sen. Rich S. Madaleno Jr.; entrepreneur Alec Ross; lawyer Jim Shea; former Michelle Obama aide Krishanti Vignarajah; and policy consultant Maya Rockeymoore Cummings.
Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.