MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Republican Roy Moore announced Thursday that he is running for U.S. Senate again in 2020 after failing to win the seat two years ago amid sexual misconduct accusations.
With his return to the political stage, Moore ignores the urgings of some Republican Party leaders to stay out of the race as he aims for an eventual rematch against Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, who bested him in the 2017 special election to fill the seat previously held by Jeff Sessions.
"I will run for the United States Senate in 2020. ... Can I win? Yes, I can win. Not only can I, they know I can," Moore said during his announcement. "I believe in America. I believe we've got to have politicians that go to Washington and do what they say."
After the announcement, Jones told The Associated Press that Moore's candidacy "is not good for the state of Alabama."
"I think a very divisive Republican primary just got more divisive and extreme," he said.
He said the race to become the GOP nominee will boil down to "either an extremist like Moore or it'll be an extremist who will be hand-picked by Mitch McConnell," the Senate majority leader who's opposed Moore in the past.
Moore made his announcement after disparaging GOP efforts to keep him out of the race and dismissing his 2017 loss as the result of "fraudulent" election tactics.
"My question is to you: Why is there such a fear? Why does the mere mention of my name cause people to get up in arms in Washington D.C?" Moore said.
Some state and national Republicans, worried that Moore is too polarizing and could jeopardize what should otherwise be a reliable GOP seat, have discouraged him from entering the race. Republicans see retaking the Alabama seat as a top priority in 2020.
"Alabama can do better than Roy Moore," the state's senior senator, Republican Richard Shelby, told reporters shortly before Moore's announcement.
He declined to say what he would do to try blocking Moore but said he believed "a lot" of Republican groups would oppose him.
McConnell concurred in a brief interview before the announcement.
"He can do what he wants to, but we're certainly going to oppose him in every way," the Kentucky Republican said.
President Donald Trump tweeted last month that Moore "cannot win" and said Republicans need to retake the seat in the once reliably red state.
"Republicans cannot allow themselves to again lose the Senate seat in the Great State of Alabama," Trump wrote in a tweet.
Asked whether Trump would support or oppose Moore, Erin Perrine, a spokeswoman for the president's reelection campaign, said, "I refer you to the president's previous tweets on the matter."
A spokesman for the Senate Leadership Fund, a political committee close to McConnell, cast Moore as an albatross for the GOP.
"We believe most Alabama Republicans realize that nominating Roy Moore would be gift wrapping this Senate seat for Chuck Schumer," fund spokesman Jack Pandol said, referring to the Senate's Democratic leader. "It remains to be seen whether Moore can escape his baggage without his candidacy collapsing under its own weight, regardless of what groups on the outside do."
The fund spent $6.9 million in the 2017 Republican primary unsuccessfully trying to help Sen. Luther Strange, appointed to the seat several months earlier, defeat Moore and win the nomination.
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Stewart Boss said national Republicans who supported Moore's 2017 campaign "have nobody to blame but themselves for the chaotic primary that's escalating in Alabama."
During the 2017 race, six women accused Moore of pursuing romantic or sexual relationships with them when they were teenagers as young as 14 and he was an assistant district attorney in his 30s. Two accused him of assault or molestation.
Moore denied the accusations and has said he considered his 2017 defeat, when he lost to Jones by 22,000 votes out of 1.3 million cast, "a fraud."
A crowded GOP primary field is competing to challenge Jones. U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville and legislator Arnold Mooney, and businessman Stanley Adair have already announced bids.
Moore retains a strong following among some evangelical voters in the state. He was twice elected as the state's chief justice but was twice stripped of those duties after a judicial ethics panel said he defied, or urged defiance of, federal court orders regarding same-sex marriage and the public display of the Ten Commandments.
"I'm a hundred percent behind Judge Moore," said Tim Sprayberry of Cleburne County, a supporter who attended the event. "He's honest. He's loyal to his friends."
"Judge Moore is one of the few candidates that I have ever seen that will tell you he is going to do something, and he does it regardless of what the consequences to him personally or his political career."