MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Roy Moore announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate on Thursday, defying Republican leaders who urged the polarizing jurist not to run for the Alabama seat they hope to reclaim in 2020.
A former chief justice known for hardline stances against gay marriage and for the Ten Commandments, Moore is aiming for an eventual rematch against Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, who beat him in the 2017 special election . Moore criticized that loss amid accusations of sexual misconduct as the result of "fraudulent" tactics and fired back at recent efforts to dissuade him from a 2020 bid.
"Can I win? Yes, I can win. Not only can I — they know I can," Moore said during his announcement in Montgomery.
"People in Alabama are not only angry, they are going to act on that anger," Moore said. "The people of Alabama are tired of politicians saying one thing and doing another."
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.
Some state and national Republicans, worried that Moore is too divisive and could jeopardize retaking what should otherwise be a reliable GOP seat, had discouraged him from running.
"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.
Asked about a Moore candidacy, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who is close to McConnell and himself is seeking reelection next year, said it would be blow to GOP efforts to capture that seat from Democrats.
"That's a good way to default to the Democrats, and I think that's our best pickup opportunity in 2020."
Last month, President Donald Trump tweeted 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."
Moore joins 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.
That support from evangelical voters, along with his name recognition from past races, propelled him to the GOP primary victory in 2017 and could make him a formidable primary candidate again in 2020.
"I'm a hundred percent behind Judge Moore," ''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."
Fram reported from Washington.