Republican Roy Moore of Alabama is pressed to quit Senate race after allegations that he molested a 14-year-old girl

Republicans’ lock on an Alabama seat in the U.S. Senate was thrown into doubt Thursday when the party’s religious-right candidate was accused of initiating a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl when he was 32.

The explosive allegation, in a Washington Post report, led Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and other Senate Republicans to call on Roy Moore to abandon his candidacy in the Dec. 12 special election — if the allegation is true.

Moore, 70, a former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, called the accusation “completely false” and vowed to stay in the race.

“I believe you and I have a duty to stand up and fight back against the forces of evil waging an all-out war on our conservative values!” he wrote on Twitter.

Still, a seat long viewed as safely Republican was suddenly looking less so. At a time when Republicans hold a narrow 52-seat majority in the Senate, GOP leaders were alarmed, all the more so after the party was thrashed in elections on Tuesday.

“They cannot afford to lose this,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

Moore, whose open bigotry has embarrassed Republicans in less conservative parts of the country, was never warmly embraced by national GOP leaders. The Post report came amid a burst of sexual harassment and assault allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and other prominent men in entertainment, business, politics and the news media.

Leigh Corfman, now 53, told the Post that Moore first approached her when she was sitting with her mother on a bench outside an Alabama courtroom down the hall from his office.

Moore got her phone number and, days later, took her on a 30-minute drive to his home in the woods, where he kissed her and told her she was pretty, according to Corfman.

On a second visit, he took off her shirt and pants, stripped to his underwear, touched her over her bra and underpants, and guided her hand to touch his crotch, she told the Post.

She said she asked him to take her home, and he did.

Arizona Sen. John McCain called the allegations against Moore “disqualifying.”

“He should immediately step aside and allow the people of Alabama to elect a candidate they can be proud of,” McCain said on Twitter.

It is too late to take Moore’s name off the ballot. The ballots are already printed, and many absentee voters have already submitted theirs.

Republicans were scrambling to figure out whether Sen. Luther Strange, who now holds the seat, could run a viable campaign as a write-in candidate against Moore’s Democratic rival, Doug Jones.

Strange, who was appointed to the seat to replace Sen. Jeff Sessions when President Trump named him U.S. attorney general, lost the Republican primary to Moore.

On Capitol Hill, Strange told reporters that the Post report was “very, very disturbing.” He ignored a question on whether he might launch a write-in campaign.

Trump supported Strange in the primary, while his former chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon promoted Moore. The night Strange lost, Trump deleted his tweets backing him, including one saying the short-term senator was “shooting up in the Alabama polls since my endorsement.”

“Roy, WIN in Dec!” Trump tweeted once Moore’s victory was clear.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump “believes we cannot allow a mere allegation, in this case one from many years ago, to destroy a person’s life.

“However, the president also believes that if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside,” she told reporters on a flight Friday to Vietnam, Trump’s most recent stop on a trip to Asia.

Three other women told the Post that Moore, when he was in his early 30s, pursued them when they were between 16 and 18 years old, but never forced sex on them. The age of consent for sex under Alabama law is 16, as it was at the time of the alleged incidents.

None of the women came forward to the Post. One of its reporters heard allegations that Moore had sought relationships with teenage girls, and the Post subsequently found and interviewed the four women.

Moore told the Post in a written statement: “These allegations are completely false and are a desperate political attack by the National Democrat Party and the Washington Post on this campaign.”

Moore has run as a firebrand stressing cultural appeals. He lamented “the awful calamity of abortion and sodomy and perverse behavior and murders and shootings and road rage” as “a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins.”

He has also referred to Native Americans and Asian Americans as “reds and yellows.”

Moore was ousted from the Alabama Supreme Court in 2003 for defying a federal order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from a state courthouse. Voters elected him chief justice again in 2012, but he was suspended for refusing to follow the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage. He later resigned.

In Alabama, supporters came to Moore’s defense. State Auditor Jim Zeigler invoked the Bible when he told the Washington Examiner: “Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.”

“There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here,” he said. “Maybe just a little bit unusual.”

In Alabama, the heart of Trump country, many think he's backing the wrong candidate in Senate race »

michael.finnegan@latimes.com

Twitter: @finneganLAT

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UPDATES:

7:15 a.m. Nov. 10: The story was updated to add comments from White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.

5:55 p.m.: The story was updated with comments from Moore and background on President Trump’s support for Sen. Luther Strange.

4:20 p.m.: The story was updated to add comments from Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler.

The story was originally published at 4:15 p.m. on Nov. 9.

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