FAIRHOPE, Ala. (CBS/AP) — Populist firebrand Steve Bannon savaged national former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and other Republican leaders in a fiery call to rally voters behind embattled Senate candidate Roy Moore as the battle for the GOP’s soul spilled into a dirt-floor barn deep in rural Alabama.
Bannon, known best for his former role as President Donald Trump’s chief strategist, called GOP leaders in Congress “cowards” Tuesday night and attacked Romney, the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, as a draft dodger as he defended Moore, who is fighting several allegations of sexual misconduct and a Washington establishment that wants him to lose the Dec. 12 election.
“The days of taking it silently are over,” Bannon declared at a rally that drew hundreds of Moore supporters to a local farm in the southwestern corner of the state.
“They want to destroy Judge Roy Moore. You know why? They want to take your voice away,” Bannon said as Moore looked on. “If they can destroy Roy Moore, they can destroy you.”
Even if he isn’t well-known in this heavily Republican county, Bannon’s appearance was a welcome development for Moore, who has been shunned by the Republican Party’s biggest stars. Trump himself agreed to campaign later in the week in nearby Florida, but many national GOP leaders say the allegations against Moore are credible and he shouldn’t serve in the Senate.
Earlier in the day, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that Moore, if elected on Dec. 12, would “immediately have an issue with the Ethics Committee” — a process that could lead to his ultimate expulsion from the Senate. Some Republicans, including Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, have already promised expulsion.
Another Republican, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, sent a $100 check to Moore’s Democratic opponent, Doug Jones on Tuesday. He tweeted a picture of the check and the words, “Country over party.”
And Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, said this week that Moore would be “a stain on the GOP and the nation.” ”No vote, no majority is worth losing our honor, our integrity,” Romney tweeted.
Bannon was most aggressive Tuesday night with Romney, charging that Moore had more integrity and honor than Romney’s entire family. He noted that Moore graduated from the United States Military Academy, while Romney received a draft deferment for his missionary work in France.
“You hid behind your religion,” Bannon said. “Do not talk to me about honor and integrity.”
Moore, 70, is facing multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, including accusations that he molested two teenage girls and pursued romantic relationships with several others while in his 30s. He has denied the allegations.
Outside the event, about three dozen protesters, some dressed as handmaidens to symbolize Moore’s accusers, chanted, “We want a senator, not a predator.”
Many gathered inside Oak Hollow Farm’s barn have dismissed the allegations as fake. Some didn’t seem to mind them, even if true.
“What girl hasn’t been kissed at 17 years old?” asked Diane Myrick, 69, of nearby Bon Secour. “I know a girl who got married at 14.”
Moore didn’t address the allegations directly Tuesday night. Instead, he cast himself as a political outsider fighting the establishment in both parties, just like Trump did one year ago. He also reminded Alabama voters of his focus on Christian conservative values.
“I know we do not need transgender in our military,” Moore said. “If I’m in a foxhole, I don’t want to know whether this guy next to me is wondering if he’s a woman or a man.”
Moore may get a bigger boost Friday when Trump hosts a campaign-style rally in Pensacola, Florida, which is less than 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the Alabama border.
Earlier in the day, roughly 250 miles (more than 400 kilometers) to the north, Moore’s Democratic opponent called Moore an embarrassment who would be a “disaster” for Alabama in Washington.
“I damn sure believe that I have done my part to ensure that men who hurt little girls should go to jail and not the United States Senate,” Jones said during a campaign stop in Birmingham, referring to his own record as a former federal prosecutor.
But some in Alabama welcomed Moore’s hardline devotion to Christian conservative values and attacks on the Republican establishment.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)