Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, called on Roy Moore, the GOP's Senate nominee in Alabama, to withdraw from the race if a news report that he had sexual relationships with teenage girls when he was in his 30s turns out to be true.
"The allegations against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore are deeply troubling," Gardner said in a statement. "If these allegations are found to be true, Roy Moore must drop out of the Alabama special Senate election."
A news report published Thursday by the Washington Post described a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl initiated by Moore when he was 32.
The Moore campaign called the report "the very definition of fake news and intentional defamation," the Associated Press reported.
According to the Post, Leigh Corfman, 53, said Moore approached her and struck up a relationship that soon turned sexual in 1979, when he was an assistant district attorney.
Three other women interviewed by the Post said Moore pursued them when they were ages to 18 and he was in his early 30s. None of those women said Moore forced them into relationships or sexual contact.
Moore denied the allegations in a written statement published by the Post.
"These allegations are completely false and are a desperate political attack by the National Democrat Party and the Washington Post on this campaign," Moore said. His campaign also told the Post that the allegations would have surfaced during previous campaigns if they were true and labelled the charges "the very definition fake news."
Moore is running in a Dec. 12 special election against Democrat Doug Jones, a former federal prosecutor, to fill the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions, who was appointed attorney general by President Donald Trump. Moore defeated Luther Strange, the Republican who had been appointed to the seat, in a September primary.
Gardner, who's heading the national Republicans' Senate campaign arm this cycle, endorsed Moore in September after he won the primary - a pitched battle between establishment Republicans backing Strange and Moore supporters, including former top Trump strategist Steve Bannon - saying the NRSC has always been focused on "keeping a strong Republican majority in the Senate, and that includes Alabama."
"Roy Moore will be imperative to passing a conservative agenda, and we support him keeping this seat in Republican hands," Gardner said in a statement tweeted out by reporters after Moore had been declared the winner in a hard-fought primary.
Moore came under fire for his extremely conservative positions and statements made over the years, including a 2006 suggestion that Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, shouldn't be seated because "Islamic law is simply incompatible with our law," and his contention that homosexuality should be illegal.
"If these allegations are true, he must step aside," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Moore, also on Thursday,
It's too late to take Moore's name off the ballot, according to National Public Radio.