Hours ahead of a presidential rally supporting Roy Moore in Alabama's special Senate election, Moore's campaign strategist called Republican senators' opposition "smoke" and said they'd better think twice before taking action against a duly elected candidate.
Moore hasn't yet won that election, of course, but potentially game-changing developments have been coming thick and fast as it has entered the home stretch. On Friday afternoon the national spotlight was, very briefly, on Wintzell's Oyster House in downtown Mobile, where host Chuck Todd conducted an interview for the MSNBC program "MTP Daily," a spinoff of the Sunday show "Meet the Press."
"It's snowing heavily in Alabama, really, and that's nowhere near the craziest thing that's happening here," Todd said by way of an introduction.
Amid the bustle of a crowded restaurant, Todd sat down with Dean Young, campaign strategist for the oft-controversial Republican candidate Moore, and Ala. Sen. Hank Sanders, a supporter of Democratic candidate Doug Jones. The event came on a day when one of the women accusing Moore of sexual improprieties altered details of her story, and hours before President Donald Trump was to make an appearance in Pensacola, a move seemingly calculated to boost Moore's standing.
In setting the stage, Todd said that Beverly Young Nelson wasn't one of the women featured in a Washington Post story that kicked off the controversy over Moore's alleged pursuit of teenage girls when he was in his 30s, and suggested that criticism of her was being "conflated" with that story and used to discredit other accusers.
Young ran roughshod over that framing, saying the allegations were "a bill of goods" and "all that Washington Post stuff" was falling apart. Between that and the president's support, he said, the net effect was that those who'd stuck with Moore all along were being vindicated.
Todd pressed Young on various controversies, including Moore's inconsistency on whether he knew any of the women accusing him of improper conduct. "He doesn't remember people he dated?" Todd prodded. "I remember everybody I dated."
Young maintained that Moore had neither conducted himself improperly, nor lied about his past. He also dismissed another recent hot topic, a much-cited quote in which Moore seemed to praise a time in America's past when values were better despite the existence of slavery. Moore wasn't endorsing or excusing slavery in any way, Young said, he merely was saying that in past eras the country had a stronger moral foundation. Effectively, Young said, the whole flap was a case of Moore being quoted out of context.
Todd also interviewed Ala. Sen. Hank Sanders, a Doug Jones supporter who said that he was a fighter for social progress that Moore had opposed. Jones stood for justice and had the courage to pursue it, Sanders said.
Sanders also said it wasn't all about the recent controversies Moore has attracted.
"Roy Moore had a lot of problems before the issue came up," Sanders said. "He's been removed from office twice. By Republicans, not Democrats."
After the interview, Young said he thought Todd's questions had been fair. He reserved his strongest words for Republican senators who've spoken against Moore, suggesting that if he wins he might be subject to an immediate ethics investigation or other action.
"All of this smoke that's being blown by the Senate about Judge Moore not being seated, that's smoke. Once the people of Alabama rule, once they vote to send Judge Moore, they have no right to overturn an election of the people of Alabama. When Alabama speaks, that's going to be the end of it."
"But if Mitch McConnell and his people think that they can overturn an election of the people of Alabama, they've got another think coming," Young said. "Because people across the nation won't stand by and let that happen. We don't live in a third world dictatorship. We live in the United States of America."
Young said he was headed for Pensacola after the interview, and declined to say whether Moore might also appear there.
"Listen to the president tonight, because he's going to have plenty to say," said Young.