From disbelief to dismissal, Alabama women who support Roy Moore have their reasons
FAIRHOPE, Ala. — Patricia Brady remembers being in an elevator 50 years ago at her office building near Mobile.
She was a young woman in her 20s, a graphic designer. A salesman stopped by her office with a product she’d been seeking — she can’t now recall what it was — but she remembers being so excited to get it. And then so terrified.
The salesman, she said, must have misread her enthusiasm for something else, and tried to grope her in the elevator on the way out. “I just said: ‘Whoa, whoa, what are you doing?’ ”
All these years later, the episode still bothers her. “It sticks with you,” said Brady, 74.
But it hasn’t changed her politics. Brady is going to vote for Roy Moore on Tuesday, joining with the 39 percent of women who are, according to polls, standing with the Republican Senate candidate in Alabama despite allegations that he sexually assaulted teenagers, including one who was 14.
These female Moore supporters have had the same #MeToo moments that, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll, nearly half of all US women have experienced and are now rehashing the episodes in conversations with co-workers and girlfriends.
But many here are drawing a line of tolerance that favors Moore, viewing the allegations against luminaries like movie titan Harvey Weinstein and NBC star Matt Lauer as far worse than Moore’s alleged trawling for teenage girls in his hometown of Gadsden, Ala., when he was in his 30s. Moore has denied the allegations against him.
Call it a collective forgiveness, or a tendency to protect your own tribe. But many women supporting Moore excuse the Senate hopeful’s behavior as more a boorish phase in his past than predatory, if they believe the allegations at all. They are offering him the benefit of the doubt, and it could well be enough to hand him a seat in the US Senate in a special election race Tuesday against Democrat Doug Jones that polls show is close.
“Anything that happened, if it did happen, happened so many years ago,” explained Brady, a retiree who spoke about the race at the Dragonfly Food Bar, a Mexican-Asian restaurant in downtown Fairhope. “He has been a happily married man for so many years,” she added, pointing to Moore’s 32-year marriage as proof that, whatever happened in his past, he did settle down and change.
It’s not that women necessarily like voting for Moore.
“I’ll vote for him because I don’t want the other guy to win,” explained Rebecca Markham, 31, of Guin. She lined up with her family hours before a President Trump rally Friday in Pensacola, Fla., just 14 miles over the state line. She said she didn’t vote for Moore in the primary, but she questions the timing of the allegations.
“If they happened so long ago,” she said, “why didn’t they come up then?”
Despite the poll numbers, finding women willing to talk openly about voting for Moore was a challenge.
Baldwin County — a suburban and exurban county on the southern tip of the state, just to the east of Mobile Bay — is a place so conservative that three out of every four voters cast a ballot for Trump in the 2016 presidential contest. But last week there were many yard signs for Jones, the Democrat, along major roads and precious few for Moore.
Women working in a Waffle House in Daphne got into a heated debate with their male customers, who backed Moore, when the Senate race came up. “All of a sudden now, after 40 years? They’re going to bring something up,” said one male customer who didn’t want to give his name.
“What about Bill Cosby?” retorted waitress Lynda Sage, as she refilled coffee. “Bill Cosby was almost dead by the time it came out,” she said referring to allegations that the entertainer drugged and raped multiple women. “With all that’s going on,’’ Sage said, “when there is some smoke there’s fire.”
A block away, four women in a hair salon stayed stone-cold silent when asked if any supported Moore. Three women decorating Christmas cookies at the Daphne Civic Center politely nodded no, that none were supporting Moore. During a lunch at a senior center, the only woman who said she supported Moore refused to give her name.
Jones’s campaign has attempted to capitalize on the discomfort many women here feel. His campaign ads feature quotes by prominent Republicans, including Ivanka Trump, disparaging Moore’s behavior. He holds weekly “Women’s Wednesdays” that focus on women’s issues. Last week the featured guest was Lilly Ledbetter, the Alabama native best known as the namesake of the Obama-era law reducing gender pay gaps.
Moore’s campaign, too, is trying to find prominent women to pitch its candidate. Gina Loudon, a former Trump media aide, spoke here last week at a Moore rally and reminded voters that Democrats, too, have a list of leaders who’ve treated women badly, labeling Democrats as hailing from the party of Bill Clinton, Senator Al Franken, Representative John Conyers, and former representative Anthony Weiner.
“Why would you listen to them about your own decision in this election?” Loudon asked supporters packed into a barn on a rainy evening. “I know the women of Alabama are just plain smarter than that.”
Many women do see their support for Moore as a political calculation, just as women have long tolerated poor male behavior as an unfortunate price to pay to achieve some other goal in business or social circles.
That’s the case for Donna Horn, the head of the Pike County Republican Party, who said the primary reason that she’s backing Moore is her deeply held views on abortion. Moore opposes abortion, and Jones supports abortion rights. “That is a line I could not cross,” she said.
Horn, 61, owns a Budweiser distribution company in Troy and has long worked in a male-dominated world. She says that she’s never had an experience she considers sexual harassment — but men have sometimes made comments, which she’s managed by swiftly shutting down the men who make them.
“You have to handle that in a firm way,” she said.
With Moore, she believes today’s standards of behavior are being unfairly applied to his past, noting that her own grandmother was 17 years old when she married a man in his late 30s who became her grandfather.
“It just wasn’t that uncommon,” Horn said. “I know it raises more eyebrows now than it did back then.”
There’s also a sense among some of Moore’s supporters that, in their own personal experience, they’ve put up with plenty of borderline behavior that they didn’t consider sexual harassment or assault. Allegations alone, they said, shouldn’t end a man’s career.
“Being in the military for 20 years, you see a lot of stuff,” said Cindy Dixon, 52, as she shivered in near-freezing weather in Pensacola, waiting outside the Trump rally on Friday night.
“I wasn’t sexually harassed,” said Dixon, who was in the Air Force until recently, when she and her husband retired to Brewton, Ala. “I think people make too much out of this. It’s life.”
And particularly since most of the allegations don’t include physical force, she doesn’t entirely blame Moore for his behavior.
“I don’t see him as a child molester,” Dixon said. “When you have 16-year-old girls flaunting their stuff, they’re not acting like children.”
Blaming the accusers was a common theme among women voting for Moore.
“If you run with the dogs, you’re going to get fleas,” said Therese Gilmore, 59, who attended a rally here for Moore last week and owns a hair salon near Mobile. “Most of them put themselves in those situations.”
More important to her, Gilmore said, is keeping a conservative vote in the Senate. Gilmore lamented the skyrocketing costs for health care — saying that friends are paying as much as $1,700 a month for coverage. And she’s worried about illegal immigration. She wanted the conversation to steer clear of the accusations.
“You need to get off all this bullcrap, because ain’t nobody interested,” Gilmore told a Globe reporter asking about the allegations of sexual assault.
The most troubling accusation, even for the women who said they are voting for Moore, was that of Beverly Nelson, who accused Moore of trying to force her to perform oral sex in a car when she was 16.
She offered what she called proof of their contact: A yearbook that he’d inscribed, signing it “Love, Roy Moore, D.A.” (Nelson has since admitted adding her own notes below his signature.)
Nelson said she was left with bruises on her neck. But several women supporting Moore pointed to a rural Alabama tradition of country justice: If Moore really did the things he was accused of, a male relative, a brother or a father, would have beaten him up — or worse.
“We call them the ‘gooduns’ — the good ol’ boys,” said Karen Agenton, 52, as she wrapped a grandchild in a layer of blankets outside the Trump rally. “They would go and take care of it. And then nobody would ever know they had done it.”