Republican candidate Roy Moore tried to rally support behind his embattled Senate campaign Saturday as some prominent Republicans disowned him over allegations he pursued sexual or romantic relationships with teenagers when he was in his 30s.
In his first public appearance since The Washington Post reported the allegations, Moore called the claims "a desperate attempt to stop my campaign" and cast doubt on the intentions of his accusers, one of whom said she was 14 when the former Alabama judge initiated a sexual encounter.
"These allegations came only four-and-a-half weeks before the election," Moore told roughly 100 supporters at a Veterans Day breakfast here.
"That's not a coincidence. It's an intentional act to stop a campaign. . . . We do not intend to let the Democrats or the establishment Republicans or anybody else behind this story stop this campaign," he said.
Moore's effort to frame the allegations as a political conspiracy perpetrated by the media and his political enemies came as national Republicans withdrew financial support for Moore's campaign and called for him to bow out before the Dec. 12 special election.
Republican voters at the event in Alabama were defiant in their support for Moore.
"From what I've read, it seems like this 14-year-old girl who is now 50-something has a somewhat checkered past," Johnny Creel, 56, an insurance broker wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat, said outside the event.
"You have to judge a story like that on the credibility of the accuser. . . . I don't think it happened."
Willie Casey, one of the few African Americans at the event, said the story is the "hottest thing going in Birmingham," especially in the black community. But he said the allegations have not changed his position.
"I believe in [Moore's] biblical principles," said Casey, 70, comparing the United States to "Sodom and Gomorrah." "I think in America, we've gone so far out of the Bible, someone needs to bring it back."
Leigh Corfman, who described a sexual encounter with Moore when she was 14, told The Washington Post she thought about confronting Moore for years but feared her personal history - three divorces and a messy financial background - could hurt her credibility. She also worried how it would affect her children, she said.
Moore, who won his Senate nomination while touting his belief in the supremacy of a Christian God over the Constitution, said he expects "the citizens of Alabama to see through this charade."
The 70-year-old is running against Democrat Doug Jones to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but the claims have raised questions about his viability in the race and how the Republican Party should respond.
President Donald Trump, who has been on a 12-day tour of Asia, told reporters Saturday aboard Air Force One that he hasn't "been able to devote very much time" to follow the report about Moore.
"Honestly, I'd have to look at it and I'd have to see. Because again, I'm dealing with the president of China, the president of Russia, I'm dealing with the folks over here," the president said when asked to comment on the accusations.
On Friday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders echoed the positions of Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that "if the allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside."
Conservative Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Steve Daines of Montana have already rescinded their endorsements of Moore. And on Saturday, two more Republicans, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, disparaged him.
Some Republicans have hoped Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, R, would postpone the election, but the governor's staff told local media Saturday that the election would go on as scheduled next month.
"These allegations are deeply disturbing," Ivey said in a statement. "I will hold judgment until we know the facts. The people of Alabama deserve to know the truth and will make their own decisions."
Ivey, who does not endorse candidates, indicated Wednesday she would vote for Moore. An inquiry about her current position was not immediately returned.
Under state law, Moore's name cannot be removed from the ballot this close to the election, but the state GOP can petition to disqualify him and he can still withdraw from the race. If Moore is disqualified or withdraws, votes for him would not be counted.
Republicans such as Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., and Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., - who ran against Moore in the primary - could also mount their own write-in campaigns. But given the apparent strength of Moore's base, national Republicans are skeptical that a write-in candidate could win.
Some Republican women who attended the event Saturday said further allegations against Moore could change their feelings about him. But as a whole, they continue to back "the judge," they said.
Ann Eubank, who leads a conservative group called Alabama Legislative Watchdogs, said The Post was part of a political conspiracy against Moore.
"Y'all chose the month before to bring a hit piece thinking you could influence how Alabamians vote. And that's what makes Alabamians mad. Don't come down here and tell us how to vote," she said.
Moore arrived at the event Saturday morning with his wife, Kayla, amid boos from about a dozen protesters. He refused to answer questions as he walked inside and as he left.
"I was horrified," Lisa Wienhold, 56, who held a sign that read "No Moore," said of the allegations. "I never liked Roy Moore that much, but when I heard about that, I was beyond horrified. . . . There are a lot of smart people who have been on the other side for whom maybe this will be the final straw."
"I'm not surprised," said Lisa Sharlach, 49, holding a sign that read "Grabby Old Pervert." "It's usually the people who are screaming God and Jesus that are the ones with skeletons in the closet."
Moore spoke Saturday after addressing the charges of sexual misconduct in a radio interview with Sean Hannity on Friday.
"These allegations are completely false and misleading," Moore told Hannity. He specifically denied The Post's report that he had a sexual encounter with Corfman in 1979. However, in the interview Friday, Moore did not rule out that he may have dated girls in their late teens when he was in his early 30s.
Moore's campaign faces a steeper climb financially after the National Republican Senatorial Committee on Friday pulled out of a joint fundraising committee with him. Deprived of a key source of campaign dollars, Moore has sought to capitalize on the controversy in fundraising appeals to supporters.
"The Obama-Clinton Machine's liberal media lapdogs just launched the most vicious and nasty round of attacks against me I've EVER faced," he wrote in a mass email sent by the campaign under his wife's name on Saturday morning.
"Rest assured I will NEVER GIVE UP the fight!" he wrote.
Moore's backers showed no signs of abandoning him on Saturday.
"I'm here to give him a check for $1,000," Creel said outside the library. "I may even double-down on the judge."
Hamburger reported and Michael Scherer contributed from Washington.