David Smith visits Gadsden to hear locals positions on the misconduct accusations, and determines supporters, waverers and critics who loathed Moore from the start

” I won't bite ,” Tiffany Jones, an African American woman, joked to Richard Helms, a white man and Donald Trump advocate, as he hesitantly sat down beside her at a bus stop.” Even though we have different opinions, we can still sit and talk to each other .”

It was Thursday afternoon in Gadsden, the Alabama hometown of US Senate candidate Roy Moore. Jones, 38, a social work student, is vehemently opposed to the maverick Republican and find the multiple allegations of sex misconduct against him compelling. Helms, a 62 -year-old pipe fitter, takes the opposite view.

” I believe the women ,” Jones said.” Do I believe anything is going to be done about it? No, because he's white and prejudiced and they want to keep it the same. That's how it is in Alabama .”

Helms, however, intends to vote for Moore.” They're trying to drum up some garbage to discredit him ,” he contended over a cigarette.” There might have been some sort of incident- entirely innocent, human, man and woman- and people get out there and magnified and blew it out of all proportion .”

The disagreement is typical of Gadsden, an understated, churchgoing city of 36,000 people on the Coosa river where the grapevine has been buzzing of late. Interviews by the Guardian with 20 residents on Thursday uncovered a wide spectrum of views, from diehards who stand by Moore to Republicans who are wavering because of the scandal to critics who loathed his firebrand populism from the start.

Behind Jones and Helms's seat was the modest statute office of Leroy Cobb, who was wearing a long and thick white beard, a tie patterned with the Confederate battle flag and a baseball cap with a picture of Confederate general “Stonewall” Jackson and the words” southern heritage “. Breaking off from a client session, Cobb, 69, insisted that he could not contemplate have voted in favour of Doug Jones- bidding to become the first Democrat elected to the Senate from Alabama in a quarter-century- over Moore on 12 December.

Tiffany
Tiffany Jones and Richard Helms at a bus stop in Gadsden. Photo: David Smith for the Guardian

” On the one side you've got a human who believes in using taxpayer fund to murder children and give sodomites equal rights ,” he said.” On the other you've got a man who doesn't believe in those things. I'm a Christian and my Bible doesn't teach those .”

Dismissing the allegations against Moore, he added:” Forty years ago? They never told anybody or nobody believed them? What does that tell you about what kind of women they are? If it was my daughter, I would have killed whoever did it. I don't believe them .”

The candidate is being held up to unfair scrutiny, Cobb insisted, quoting rightwing conspiracy theories.” No reporter ever ran and looked at the background of Barack Obama .”

Cobb was not alone in rallying to the defence of 70 -year-old Moore, whose campaign on Thursday hit back at his accusers, declaring” let the battle begin “. Waiting outside the Gadsden Career Center, Christopher Brand, 38, said:” I believe it's just stuff in the working papers and I think it will go away. I don't know if they're lying but some people try to seek publicity these days, get their name in the paper. Some do it for money .”

Brand, who voted for Trump in the presidential election, are recognizing that he heard the rumours about Moore before they became public. But he said:” There's a lot of gossips in small towns in Alabama. I merely believe what I know to be fact .”

Others were more willing to theorize. A 67 -year-old man, who gave his name only as Al for fear of reprisals from his employer, said he believed there would be more allegations to come against Moore.

” I'd be very surprised if there weren't ,” Al said.” He has a history that goes back a long ways. I know the girl Leigh Corfman[ who told the Washington Post that Moore sexually abused her when she was 14] and about 12 years ago she told me the tale. She is absolutely not lying. I know he molested her when she was very young .”

Quick Guide

Gay forbiddings and praise for Putin: the world according to Roy Moore

Homosexuality should be illegal

In 2005, Moore said:” Homosexual conduct should be illegal .” In an interview televised on C-Span, Moore added:” It is immoral. It is defined by the law as detestable .” During a debate in September 2017, he went out of his style to bemoan the fact that” sodomy[ and] sexual perversion sweep the land “.

September 11 assaults as divine punishment

In a speech in February, Moore appeared to suggest that the terrorist attacks of September 11 were research results of divine retribution against the United States and prophesized in the Book of Isaiah. In remarks first reported by CNN, Moore quoted Isaiah 30:12 -1 3, saying:” Because you have despised His word and trust in perverseness and oppression, and say thereon … therefore this iniquity will be to you as a violate ready to fall, swell out in a high wall, whose violating cometh abruptly at an instance .” Moore then noted:” Sounds a little bit like the Pentagon, whose violate came suddenly at an instance, doesn't it ?” He added:” If you think that's coincidence, if you go to verse 25:' There should be up on every high mountain and upon every hill, rivers and rivers of water in the day of the great massacre when the towers will fall.'”

Praise for Putin

In an interview with the Guardian in August, Moore praised Putin for his views on homosexual rights.” Perhaps Putin is right. Maybe he's more akin to me than I know .” The remarks came as Moore indicated the United States could be described as” the focus of evil in the world” because” we promote a lot of bad things “. Moore specifically named lesbian wedding as one of those “bad things”.

‘Reds and yellows ‘

At a rally earlier in September, Moore talked about” reds and yellows opposing” while discussing racial division in the United States. Moore justified this on Twitter by citing lyrics from the anthem Jesus Loves the Little Children. He wrote” Red, yellow, black and white they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world. This is the Gospel .”

Tracking livestock is communism

In 2006, Moore condemned a proposal for a national ID system for animals as” more identifiable with communism than free enterprise “. The proposal received attention after a cow in Alabama had been diagnosed with mad cow disease. Moore, who was then operating for governor, was skeptical that the outbreak was real. Instead, Moore indicated it was a ruse intended to promote the tracking system.

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Al also backed reports that Moore sought girls at the Gadsden shopping mall.” He always wore the same tan camel-hair coat. There was a store called Pizitz and he would always hang around the lingerie section; they were the first ones to throw him out. Then he would hang around outside the Record Bar and hit on young girls there. He was always alone; never with another adult. The mall hurled him out.

” Then he chose he would thump the Bible and these people believed him and he became some sort of cult figure. But he's a shady character, a really strange guy. There's no way I would vote for him; I never have. I don't see him winning, actually. If you look at middle-class, better educated regions, he never gets those elections .”

Chad Gowens, a medical assistant who served in the navy, said:” Growing up in this town, most people know Roy Moore and the type of person he was. At school you heard the stories. It was a hush-hush because he was assistant DA[ district attorney ].”

Gadsden, Alabama

Gowens, 33, always suspected that a scandal would burst into the open sooner or later.” I figured it would be that they found him on Grindr or something. Anyone who's preaching that hard is normally got skeletons in their closet .”

Henry Joseph, 80, a retired build contractor, was sitting at the bar at the Blackstone Pub and Eatery on Broad Street, said he was a Republican but was willing to vote Democrat next month.” I've turned ,” he said.” Doug Jones did very well in Birmingham when he was a prosecutor .”

As for Moore, Joseph was adamant.” I think the man's in love with himself. His ego's even bigger than Trump's and he likely misses himself when he goes to sleep at night .” But he added:” I guess part of the allegations are presumptively right and a lot are fabricated. I can't go back 30 years and tell you where I was on a dedicated day .”

Lonnie Dorcey, 42, a business proprietor in the hospice industry, also rejected the accusations.” He's known to everyone in the state and nothing like this has come out until four weeks before the election. There were lots of opportunities over the last 30 years. It's a small enough town, a small enough community. Everyone knows everything about everyone. You just can't maintain a secret like for 30 years: there have been bitter election fightings and it would have come out .”

Steve Beene, 68, relaxing on a bench, said:” I believe Roy Moore could shoot somebody here and still get the votes. People are not as informed as they used to be .”

Gadsden is the county seat of Etowah County, which in the past has voted for Democrat John F Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton( twice ), but has all along staunchly Republican, strongly backing Trump in last year's presidential election.

It fits the profile of some of Trump's strongholds. Gadsden's main employers were textile mills, a steel mill that shut down in about 2000 and a tyre-manufacturing plant that nearly ran the same way. The main street, Broad Street, is lined with bars and restaurants, insurance and investment companies and stores selling antiques, comics and playthings, as well as an art museum and dancing conservatory, but little traffic and few household name chains. Within walking distance are several advance cash and payday loan outlets.

Greg Bailey, co-managing editor of the Gadsden Times, a 150 -year-old daily newspaper with a circulation of 10, 000, said:” It's gone from a smokestack city to a city looking for an identity. There are people saying,' When are those smokestack days coming back ?' They're not coming back. We're still in flux .”

Beverly
Beverly Young Nelson at a news conference in Manhattan where she has accused Roy Moore of sexually abusing her when she was 16. Photograph: Spencer Platt/ Getty Images

The paper has been inundated with bellows from around the country since the Moore scandal erupted. Bailey believes he still has a chance of winning the Senate race.” It would not surprise me ,” he said.” His core base, the conservative evangelical Christians, is very loyal. This is a group that feels put upon by the socioeconomic changes they see around them and they're desperate for a champion and they're not easily going to give their champ up .”

The journalist added:” I have some people in my social media who are absolutely doubling down and some who are now wavering. If he sticks it out, I can't tell what's going to happen on December 12.”

But the waverers are much in evidence, even among unrepentant Trump voters. After all, the president himself- who won Alabama by 28 percentage points- has hardly been enthusiastic about Moore's candidacy, first endorsing his competitor Luther Strange in the Republican primary, then suggesting that Moore should step aside if the allegations demonstrate true, though he stopped short of demanding his immediate withdrawal.

Preparing to order lunch at Cafe 5, Rick Green, 69, said he backed Trump strongly but was undecided on how to vote in the Senate race.” I need more information about some things ,” he said.” These accusations seem to be getting stronger and stronger every day but I want to see proof. You're supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. I think the election's going to be awful close .”

A military special operations veteran of 30 years who served in Vietnam and Iraq, Green criticised congressional Republican for trenching Moore.” You can't seem these days to get the Republican to stand together on anything. I'm just altogether disgusted. They can't get their act together. They're constantly squabbling when I want a wall built, I want taxation reform .”

A poll released on Wednesday by the Senate Republicans' campaign arm showed Jones constructing a once unthinkable 12 -point lead since the accusations became public. Another Trump voter, 29 -year-old Jessica Jones, owner of the Sew Much Grace boutique store, said:” I lean more towards Republican in my voting. We share the same values and notions, but I cannot in good conscience vote for Roy Moore .”

Not everyone is gripped by the contest, however. Back at the bus stop, Betty Way, 60, who works in an adjacent office for a trucks and trailer company, said:” I don't even know what the allegations are. I don't watch Tv. I live in the country and there's better things to do than look at politics.

” If you ask me how the deer's running or how's the rabbit's hopping, I could tell you, but when you get into politics, I don't have a view .”