PENSACOLA, Fla — President Trump may have been in Florida on Friday night, but his mind was roughly 15 miles away.
Trump heartily endorsed Alabama Senate candidate and accused child molester Roy Moore during a rally just over the Alabama border, while taking swipes at a woman who accused Moore of sexually assaulting her when she was a teenager.
“This guy’s screaming ‘We want Roy Moore.’ He’s right,” Trump said, pointing into the crowd more than 40 minutes into a speech in the Pensacola Bay Center, a local hockey arena adorned with “Trump-Pence Merry Christmas” signs.
Trump then took aim at Beverly Young Nelson, who has said Moore sexually assaulted her when she was 16 years old — one of a number of women who has accused Moore of sexual misconduct towards them when they were teenagers. Nelson admitted in a Friday interview that a she has added a bit to the high school yearbook inscription she had said was from Moore — though she said it was just marking where and when he’d signed it, not a change to the inscription itself.
“You know the yearbook? Did you see that? There was a little mistake made, she started writing things in the yearbook. Oh, what are we going to do. Gloria Allred, anytime you see her you know something’s going wrong,” he said, referring to Nelson’s feminist attorney and Democratic activist.
Moore is locked in a tight race with Democrat Doug Jones, though he’s pulled back into the lead in most public polls. Part of the reason he seems to have inched ahead since Thanksgiving in spite of all the accusations against him is Trump’s tacit endorsement right before the holiday — and full embrace and re-endorsement earlier this week.
Trump made it clear he knew who his audience was — the Alabamians in the building, and the nearly quarter of the state that shares a media market with Pensacola.
“By the way just so I can satisfy this to everyone out here, how many people out there are from the great state of Alabama?” he asked as roughly half the crowd cheered.
“We need somebody in that Senate seat who will vote for our Make America Great Again agenda which involves tough on crime, strong on borders, strong on immigration, we want great people coming into our country,” he said to cheers. “We want jobs, jobs, jobs. So get out and vote for Roy Moore.”
Moore wasn’t in the building, according to sources. But plenty of his supporters were around.
“I knew he was going to give a shout-out, but that was strong as new rope,” Trump’s Alabama state chairman Perry Hooper, a Moore supporter, told TPM after the speech. “He laid it out there. It’s about repealing Obamacare, cutting taxes, building the wall, and Doug Jones won’t be for any of that.”
Jeana Boggs, a Trump delegate at the Republican National Committee who worked for Moore for years and has been heavily involved in his campaign, sat next to Hooper in the second row in front of Trump’s podium.
“Since all the accusations came out, we consider that God’s going to take care of this, he’s going to expose all the lies,” she said, calling the race the “dirtiest” campaign she’s ever seen in five decades involved in campaigns, and saying that after multiple women accused Trump of sexual assault last fall it’s the “same road the liberals are taking” against Moore.
“We’re going to win. If God wants him there, he’s going to put him there,” she said.
Even some of the most ardent Trump backers who spoke to TPM, while never wavering in their support of Moore, weren’t sure how much Trump’s endorsement will help. But all were confident Moore will win, something that didn’t seem so sure a few weeks ago.
Penny Hall and her sister Lulu Raffilde backed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) in the primary against Moore, but said their support had nothing to do with Trump’s primary endorsement of Strange.
They expressed a deep hostility to being told what to do by outsiders — even from a president they loved. That sentiment seems to be helping Moore, who has run hard against the Washington establishment, lumping in the media, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Democrats.
“Alabama’s going to do what Alabama wants to do, no matter what,” Hall said.