The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Allegations of a past sexual encounter with a teenager hit Roy Moore where it hurts — his righteousness

Leigh Corfman, left, is pictured in 1979, when she was about 14. At right, from top, Wendy Miller at around age 16, Debbie Wesson Gibson at around age 17 and Gloria Thacker Deason at around 18. (Family photos)
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It's hard to think of a more damaging story to this particular candidate, at this particular time, than the one The Washington Post just reported about Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore. Allegations that he had a sexual encounter with a teenage girl when he was in his 30s directly pierce Moore's decades-long image as a righteous candidate who would bring morality back to American government.

Leigh Corfman said that when she was 14 years old and Moore was 32, he took her to his house and touched her sexually, The Post's Stephanie McCrummen, Beth Reinhard and Alice Crites report. Three other women said that Moore pursued them when they were teenagers and he was in his early 30s. Two said he offered them alcohol when they were underage.

Now that I’ve gotten older,” said Wendy Miller, who was 16 when Moore started asking her out, “the idea that a grown man would want to take out a teenager, that’s disgusting to me.”

It also is the opposite image Moore has spent decades cultivating — and winning on. In the GOP primary runoff this fall, Moore beat the Senate Republican establishment candidate by presenting himself as an unapologetic evangelical Christian who will integrate his hard-line interpretation of Christianity into government to restore the nation's morality.

“You think that God’s not angry that this land is a moral slum?” Moore asked supporters, days before he would win the primary.

The Post's Michael Scherer followed former Alabama chief justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore in his campaign against Sen. Luther Strange. (Video: Jenny Starrs, Michael Scherer/The Washington Post, Photo: Nathan Morgan/The Washington Post)

“These allegations are completely false and are a desperate political attack by the National Democrat Party and The Washington Post on this campaign,” Moore said in a statement to The Post. His campaign said that if the allegations were true, they would have surfaced long ago, and he pointed to his marriage as proof that he is a good man. Moore married his wife in 1985, several years after the alleged actions occurred.

The Moore allegations also land at a time when society has a heightened awareness of alleged sexual harassment. Since the sexual assault and harassment allegations against Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein surfaced last month, sexual misconduct claims have felled powerful men in media and entertainment.

Alabama has its own recent scars from sex scandals.

Earlier this year, former Alabama governor Robert Bentley resigned in the middle of his term and pleaded guilty to charges related to allegations that he used public resources to carry out and conceal an affair with his former top aide. Alabama voters might remember the explicit recordings between Bentley and the woman.

Then, as his governorship was crumbling around him, Bentley appointed the state's attorney general, Luther Strange, whose office was looking into the allegations, to the Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Strange lost a runoff election a few months later when Moore beat him, his ties to Bentley not far from voters' minds.

"I believe the women," who accused Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexual misconduct, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Nov. 13. (Video: The Washington Post)

Like Bentley, who was a deacon and a Sunday school teacher at a Baptist church before becoming governor, the allegations against Moore are a stark contrast to his Christian image.

This is a man who wrote a pamphlet arguing the legal theory of God's supremacy. Moore has waged a decades-long war against homosexuality — not just whether gay people should be able to marry, arguing that being gay is sexually impure. He was removed from the Alabama courts twice for refusing to back down from infusing his religious beliefs into his interpretation of the law, most recently regarding the Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage.

Now we learn that one woman says that when she was 14, Moore drove her to his house in the woods, stripped down to his underwear, took off her pants and shirt, and started touching her and guiding her to touch him.

“I wasn’t ready for that — I had never put my hand on a man’s penis, much less an erect one,” Leigh Corfman told The Post.

By Moore's own telling, around the time of the alleged events, he was forming his strong moral compass.

As The Post reports, in his book “So Help Me God,” Moore says he worked as a prosecutor convicting “murderers, rapists, thieves and drug pushers,” and it was “around this time that I fashioned a plaque of The Ten Commandments on two redwood tablets.”

Even before all this, Moore's controversial nature had made him a less competitive general-election candidate.

Polls for the Dec. 12 special election show Moore closer to Democratic lawyer Doug Jones than expected for deep-red Alabama. A RealClearPolitics average of polls shows Moore with an average six-point lead, well behind President Trump's nearly 30-point win over Hillary Clinton in the state last year.

It remains to be seen whether these new revelations will change how Moore supporters view him. Will his base crumple like Bentley's did? Or, to make another Trump-Moore comparison, will it wash off like oil and water? Sexual harassment allegations against the president — and a videotape of him bragging about extremely lewd sexual behavior — didn't cost him his election, including in Alabama.

But at the very least, allegations of sexual impropriety, landing at this moment, are among the most possibly damaging stories to Moore.