COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – A Republican U.S. Senate primary in Ohio that’s barely registered with the public suddenly has a dividing line: Roy Moore.
Josh Mandel, the 40-year-old state treasurer considered the front runner, declined to state a position on whether Moore should quit the Alabama Senate race if allegations of sexual misconduct with minors prove true.
That’s a break from other Republicans, including Senate leaders, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and Gov. John Kasich.
Rival Mike Gibbons, a Cleveland banker and first-time politician, said if the allegations of decades-old sexual encounters with young girls are true Moore should leave the race.
“Of course, if it is true he should step aside,” Gibbons said through a spokesman.
Moore, a 70-year-old former state Supreme Court justice, has denied the allegations, which were published Thursday in a Washington Post story. The accounts by multiple women prompted Republican lawmakers to say he should end his candidacy for the Dec. 12 special election if the allegations are true.
“I have never engaged in sexual misconduct,” Moore said Friday.
The Associated Press sought the Ohio Senate candidates’ opinions of the matter Friday. After repeated calls and text messages, Mandel’s campaign spokeswoman said, “You can say we didn’t respond.”
That stance comes as Mandel has sought to align his 2018 campaign with the party’s right flank. He has pushed legislation banning “sanctuary cities” protections for immigrants and sided on social media with two right-wing activists that an Anti-Defamation League report listed in a report on new alt-lite and alt-right movements.
He seeks a rematch next fall against Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown, one of the Senate’s most liberal members.