Roy Moore’s evangelicalism is his calling card, but on the Sunday before the special election that could send him to the Senate, he skipped church.
He didn’t worship at his usual hometown service, which some reporters had staked out in hopes of catching a glimpse or asking a question of the elusive Republican candidate. He didn’t visit any other congregations, either.
“Out of respect for people who want to worship without reporters hanging over their heads gawking, no, he did not attend church this morning,” Moore adviser Brett Doster told BuzzFeed News.
In the final days of a race that has put Alabama under a national political spotlight that doesn’t often shine here, Moore has made himself scarce. He hasn’t held a public event since a Tuesday rally with right-wing provocateur Steve Bannon and isn’t scheduled to return to the campaign trail until Monday evening — for an Election Eve encore with Bannon.
By keeping a low profile, Moore has been able to avoid tough questions about accusations that, as an adult, he made sexual advances on a minor and pursued romantic relationships with other teens. The accusations upended his campaign, turning a race many believed he would win rather easily into a somewhat suspenseful battle with the Democratic nominee, Doug Jones.
Moore has denied the allegations, and polls have shown him rebounding since the initial shock of the Washington Post’s first story. Some suspect his strategy is to sit on a lead and not submit himself to the unpredictability of traditional media events, where reporters would be certain to ask about his past.
“My guess is that they think anything that comes up now is just going to hurt him, and their hard count gives them the confidence to keep it low-key and let their ads carry the day,” said David Mowery, an Alabama political strategist who has worked with Democrats and Republicans. “It’s certainly not conventional, but literally nothing about this election has been conventional.”
Aside from paid advertising, the only sight of Moore this weekend came Sunday on The Voice of Alabama Politics, a show that airs across the state.
“They know I’ve stood for moral values, and so they’re attacking me in that area,” Moore told the program’s host, Bill Britt. “I understand that. But it’s also part of a scheme of political parties today and political candidates in both parties, quite frankly, to degrade your opponent — to take him down so that you appear to go up. And that’s a simple political tactic. Ritual defamation has been around for a long time, and that’s what this is.”
It was a friendly interview. Britt gently questioned Moore about the allegations. When Moore said he did not know any of his accusers, Britt did not press him on the fact that he initially acknowledged he knew at least two of them. At another point, Britt quipped: “Someone asked me the other day, was there a Democrat that I thought could be sent to Alabama that would help Doug Jones, and I said, ‘Not any living ones.’” (Britt and Moore both chuckled at that.)
The observation was timely, as Jones received assists this weekend from several out-of-state Democrats. On Saturday, former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick joined him at the historic Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Selma. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker headlined a rally for Jones that evening at Alabama State University. On Sunday, Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana attended a get-out-the-vote kickoff in Montgomery. The events were aimed at helping boost black turnout, which is seen as essential to the party’s chances of picking up the seat.
“I can’t remember what day we’re in now where Roy Moore is in hiding,” Jones told reporters in Selma. “He comes out only to be seen, kind of like the groundhog, who comes out every so often to see whether or not he sees his shadow.”
The only new Moore development announced as of Sunday afternoon was that Corey Stewart — the right-wing Senate candidate in Virginia known for defending Confederate symbols — would spend the final days of the race assisting Moore’s get-out-the-vote operation in Alabama. And that announcement came from Stewart. (On Twitter, Doster said a volunteer team logged “150,000 real voter contacts on last super Saturday push!”)
One of the campaign's county chairs told Vice News that Moore was in Philadelphia for Saturday's Army–Navy football game. "No," Doster replied Saturday when BuzzFeed News asked about a tip that Moore was at the game.
Asked how Moore spent the weekend, Hannah Ford, his deputy campaign manager, responded with a shot at Jones and at Booker for suggesting Saturday evening that Trump should resign over sexual harassment allegations. "We've got our strategy," Ford said. "Doug Jones has his. We'll see which one Alabama likes better on Tuesday."
The campaign has been emphasizing President Donald Trump’s event Friday night in Pensacola, Florida, not far from the Alabama border and in a TV market that reaches Alabama voters. Trump used a tiny part of his speech to reiterate his unequivocal endorsement for Moore. The president also has taped a last-minute robocall supporting Moore.
Trump won Alabama by an overwhelming margin last year and remains popular in the state.
“It’s not a bad political strategy,” said Andy Surabian, a GOP strategist who works closely with Bannon, “to let President Trump’s rally from Friday be the driving message heading into Tuesday.”