President Donald Trump urged voters at a Florida rally Friday night to elect Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, telling a raucous crowd, "We cannot afford to lose a seat in the very, very close United States Senate."
The rally — which took place just four days before a high-profile special election for a US Senate seat in Alabama — was held in Pensacola, a bastion of Trump support in Florida's panhandle that sits less than 30 miles from the Alabama border and shares a media market with Mobile. Though a White House spokesperson denied Friday that the decision to hold the rally was calculated, it was widely seen as a final push to support Moore, who has been accused by more than a half dozen women of sexual misconduct, including a woman who said she was 14 at the time.
"We need a Republican in the Senate," Trump told the Florida crowd, which erupted in cheers when the president urged a vote for Moore. "Get out and vote for Roy Moore. Do It. Do it."
The remarks drew cheers from members of the raucous crowd, some of whom had driven in from Alabama to hear the president speak.
“I’ve been a Trump supporter and I’ll always be a Trump supporter,” said Bennett Duncan, 58, a Moore supporter from Highland Home, Alabama, who drove more than 100 miles Friday afternoon to attend the Florida rally. "He stands up for the American people — he’s for us. And I think Moore will be a good addition to that.”
Asked if he believed the accusations against Moore, Duncan's companion, 33-year-old Donald Means, of Greenville, Alabama, emphatically shook his head. "If they could prove it, that would be something," Means told BuzzFeed News. "But they can't prove it and I don't believe it."
Trump's support also did not go unnoticed by Moore himself, who was not at the rally, but whose Twitter account was active during the president's speech, quoting lines from his endorsement.
The remarks about Moore came about 45 minutes into Trump's rambling address, sandwiched between the usual talking points and attack lines that have consistently revved up his supporters, including criticism of "sanctuary cities," calls for building a southern border wall, promises of tax and regulatory relief, and boasts about the 2016 presidential campaign.
At one point, cued by the mention of Hillary Clinton, the crowd began yelling "Lock her up," reprising a common refrain from Trump's pre-election rallies. The president then walked briefly away from the podium, allowing the crowd to carry the chant.
"Look, its been proven we have a rigged system," Trump said, apparently in response. "But this system — going to be a lot of changes. This is a rigged system. This is a sick system from the inside."
It wasn't until a man in the audience yelled something about Moore that Trump mentioned the Alabama Senate candidate, enthusiastically obliging the audience with an extended defense of the embattled Republican. "This guy's screaming, 'We want Roy Moore,'" Trump remarked. "He's right."
"We can't afford to have a liberal democrat who is completely controlled by Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer — can't do it," he said. "We need someone in that Senate seat who will vote for our 'Make America Great Again' agenda."
Trump, who himself has been accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct, also seized on recent news reports that one of Moore's accusers admitted to having written notes under a message Moore signed in her high school yearbook when she was 16.
"So did you see what happened today? You know the yearbook? There was a little mistake. She started writing things in the yearbook," Trump said.
"Gloria Allred, any time you see her you know something's wrong," he added, referring to Nelson's attorney, who has also represented women who have accused Trump of sexual harassment.
The support for Moore, which follows the president's earlier endorsement Monday, was echoed by many Trump supporters in Pensacola, including many who live locally and will not be able to vote in next week's race.
"I've been a supporter of Roy Moore ever since he was a judge," said Angie Nelson, 40, citing Moore's 2003 refusal to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the Alabama Judicial Building despite a federal court order.
"I think he's been very unfairly treated, and I don't believe that everything his accusers say is true," the Jay, Florida, resident added. "I did question him at first, but so far they haven't been able to show any guilt — I think the truth will come out eventually."
Even among those who seemed inclined to believe Moore's accusers, there was an agreement that his election to the US Senate would nevertheless be preferable to the Democratic alternative.
"These allegations, some of them go back 30 or 40 years," said John Wambaugh, 73, a retired Air Force pilot who lives near Pensacola. "Then, on the other hand, you would have a senator coming in who could support the agenda of President Trump, which would be for the benefit of the American people. So when put in the total scheme of things, maybe it’s the right thing to do, to vote for him to give Trump the support he needs in the Senate."
Voting for Moore would be "the lesser of two evils," said Julie Perez, a Trump supporter who lives in Gulf Breeze, Florida, just off the coast of Pensacola. "The other option is a Democrat, and we don't want that."
Though Perez said that she does believe the women who have accused Moore of sexual misconduct, she noted that the alleged harassment "happened a long, long time ago."
"We're very pro-life," she said, "and to me that's more important than something that happened years ago."
Ultimately, she added, "I'm just glad I don't have to vote."