Roy Moore’s 2017 Senate campaign ended in defeat after multiple women said he had pursued them sexually or romantically when they were teenagers.
Now, just over two years after the allegations came to light, Moore is running for Senate again. In a recent interview with the local network WSFA TV, the Alabama judge — who has denied the allegations against him — presented himself as the candidate of the moral high ground.
“I think the major difference between myself and others running public offices, I’ve actually stood for something,” he said. “I think it’s very important for a candidate not only to talk the talk, but to walk the walk.”
Moore is unlikely to win his race, especially since former senator and Trump attorney general Jeff Sessions entered the fray in November. But he’s far from the only candidate who’s running for office again after allegations of sexual misconduct. Of course, there’s President Trump, who’s running for reelection this year despite being accused of sexual misconduct by more than 20 women. But there are also many former state or local politicians, like former Arizona Rep. David Stringer, who’s now running for a county attorney seat after allegations that he paid children for sex in the 1980s.
State and local candidates like Stringer may have an easier time coming back from allegations than someone like Moore, who lost a senatorial bid. In a local race, voters may feel they know the candidate personally and be more willing to dismiss accusations against them, Nadia Brown, an associate professor of political science at Purdue University, told Vox.
Meanwhile, the Me Too movement’s impact on politics, especially at the state and local level, has gotten a bit less attention as coverage focuses on powerful men in Hollywood and the media.
But just as people like Louis C.K. and Mark Halperin have planned or executed comebacks, politicians are doing so this year. And November’s election, about three years after the movement entered its current phase, will be the most high-profile test yet of how much voters care about allegations of sexual misconduct — and how easy it is for the accused to come back into power, if they ever left in the first place.
Many people accused of sexual misconduct are running again in 2020
As the Me Too movement rose to prominence in 2017, hundreds of people came forward to report sexual misconduct by powerful figures around the country — and dozens of the accused were local, state, or federal politicians.
In 2018, the Washington Post counted 27 federal officials or candidates for federal office who had been accused of sexual misconduct as part of the movement. Of those, 19 faced significant career impact — they resigned, lost their races, or declined to run for reelection.
But some of those 19 are now attempting or have attempted comebacks. Moore, for example, announced last June that he would be running again for the Alabama Senate seat he lost to Democrat Doug Jones in 2017. Moore has been opposed by high-powered Republicans including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and he came in fourth in a December poll of Alabama Republican voters.
But in a December speech, Moore vowed to press on against Republicans in Washington who “have vowed to stop” him.
He’s not the only one to return to or stay in politics. Pennsylvania state Sen. Daylin Leach suspended his congressional campaign after campaign workers accused him of unwanted touching and suggestive jokes (Leach denied any wrongdoing). But he stayed in the state Senate and is running for reelection in 2020. Leach has a number of primary challengers, but his opponents are worried they’ll end up splitting the ticket and he will win, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Others have made unsuccessful comeback bids. Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-NV) announced in 2017 that he would not seek reelection, after several women came forward with reports of sexual misconduct by him (he denied the allegations). In 2019, he ran for Las Vegas City Council but lost in the primary.
Beyond the 27 federal-level politicians tracked by the Washington Post, many state and local lawmakers have been accused of sexual misconduct in recent years as well. Arizona state Rep. David Stringer, for example, resigned in March 2019 after the Phoenix New Times uncovered charges from 1983 that he had paid two children under the age of 15 for sex. Stringer said he had “done nothing wrong” and had never been convicted, but it was impossible to confirm that because court records had been expunged, according to the Arizona Republic.
The state legislator had also made racist statements, describing immigration as an “existential threat” and saying there were not “enough white kids to go around” in Arizona’s schools.
Last week, less than a year after his resignation, Stringer announced he will run for county attorney in Yavapai County, Arizona. “Being forced from the legislature has not scared me away from fighting for those who need my help,” he said in a Facebook post announcing his candidacy. “Instead, it has hardened my resolve to stand up to bullies and bureaucrats who serve themselves instead of We The People.”
Some state politicians accused of sexual misconduct stayed in office and are now running for reelection. California state Assembly member Cristina Garcia, for example, was accused in 2018 of making inappropriate sexual advances toward a staffer. The Assembly member, who said she had “zero recollection of engaging in inappropriate behavior,” was stripped of her committee appointments and required to undergo sexual harassment and sensitivity training, but she is running for reelection this year.
The allegations might not keep these candidates out of office
Whether voters care about sexual misconduct allegations surely depends on the race and the candidate. But overall, preliminary research shows that voters aren’t swayed much by allegations if the accused shares their party affiliation, Brown, the political scientist, said. Democratic women seem to care the most about allegations, followed by Republican women and Democratic men — and Republican men in “super last” place, Brown said.
So far, “partisanship is really trumping (no pun intended) our collective willingness to deal with Me Too,” she said.
The movement may have a bigger impact on a candidate like Moore, whose name was in national media headlines for months. But in state-level races, voters aren’t always aware of allegations against a candidate, political science professor Michael Miller told the Washington Post in 2018.
And voters may have a sense of personal familiarity with state or local candidates, Brown said. That makes it “a lot easier to say, all these allegations might not be true, or if they are true, this person has done all these other great things.”
In races at all levels, some voters may care about sexual misconduct allegations to a degree, but not as much as other priorities, like electing a candidate who shares their views on abortion or other issues, Brown explained. There’s a need for more research into how voters think about sexual misconduct within the larger spectrum of issues they care about, she said.
Even politicians who lose can still make comebacks
Whatever happens in November, voters around the country may not have heard the last of candidates like Stringer and Moore. Some lawmakers who lost their reelection bids after misconduct allegations have already managed to return to influential positions at the local or state level.
Washington state Sen. Joe Fain, for example, lost his 2018 reelection campaign after a woman said he had raped her in 2007. In February 2019, he was named the new president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce in Bellevue, Washington. The board chair of the organization praised Fain, who has denied the allegation against him, for his “proven track record of collaborative leadership in both government and business.”
And former Georgia state Sen. David Shafer lost his 2018 campaign for lieutenant governor after a woman filed a sexual harassment complaint against him (he denied the allegation). In 2019, he became the chair of the Georgia Republican Party. In an interview in July, he talked about the party’s 2020 strategy, saying he hoped to see Trump take Georgia again.
Whether that will happen remains to be seen. Trump, for his part, faced many allegations of sexual misconduct before the 2016 election, and he won anyway. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that a significant number of people accused of sexual misconduct are running for office again in 2020.
After all, while Americans are still arguing over whether a woman can win the presidency, we already know that a man accused of sexually assaulting women can do so.