U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell on Monday called on the party's Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore to "step aside" because of allegations he had sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl decades ago.
McConnell told reporters in his home state of Kentucky that party officials were considering whether a Republican write-in candidate could be found to challenge Moore in the Dec. 12 special election.
He said Luther Strange, who lost the Republican primary to Moore earlier this year, was being considered as a possible option.
McConnell said he believed the women quoted in a Washington Post story on Thursday about Moore's relationships with them as teenagers, including a charge that Moore initiated sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl when he was in his 30s.
McConnell had previously said Moore should step aside if the allegations were proven true.
"I believe the women. Yes," he said, according to a video of his session with reporters.
Moore, a Republican who had been a heavy favorite to win the election against Democrat Doug Jones, has denied the Washington Post story detailing allegations of sexual misconduct against him and portrayed them as a smear by his political opponents.
"This article is a prime example of fake news," Moore said on Saturday in Alabama. "We do not intend to let anyone behind this story stop this campaign. We fully expect the people of Alabama to see through this charade."
The Moore-Jones race had been seen as a long shot for Democrats in Alabama, which has not elected a Democratic senator in a quarter century. Jones, a former federal prosecutor, was trailing by double digits in some opinion polls.
A Democratic win in Alabama would be a blow to President Donald Trump's agenda and shift the political outlook for next year's midterm elections, giving Democrats a shot at gaining the three seats they need to recapture control of the U.S. Senate.
(Reporting by David Alexander; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Bill Trott)