GOP fears new Roy Moore upset in Arizona with married sexting minister


Steve Montenegro, the frontrunner to replace a Republican embroiled in a sex scandal, just got caught in his own sex scandal.

Republicans are worried that former state Sen. Steve Montenegro will "pull a Roy Moore" and lose a reliably red Arizona congressional seat if he wins Tuesday's special primary election.

Because as Montenegro is running for a seat vacated by a Republican embroiled in a sex scandal, he's caught up in a sex scandal of his own.

Former GOP Rep. Trent Franks announced in December that he'd resign after the House Ethics Committee began investigating accusations of sexual harassment against him. The allegations centered around his alleged offer to pay $5 million to impregnate a staffer.

But just a week before Tuesday's special election, Montenegro — a married minister who touts himself as a "leader of virtue" — got caught in his own sex scandal.

And now Republicans are worried that they have another Roy Moore situation on their hands.

According to the Arizona Republic, Montenegro admitted last Thursday that he had exchanged flirtatious text messages with a junior state legislative staffer for months. Those messages including receiving nude photos from the woman. An attorney for the woman says those exchanges followed conversations during which Montenegro "groomed" her for an affair.

Montenegro's admission came after initial denying the accusations and calling reports of the messages "false tabloid trash."

The explosive revelations have left Republicans worried that the Arizona race "could be Alabama all over again," Shiree Verdone, who ran Sen. John McCain's 2010 Senate race, told Politico.

"Deep down, I'm worried because I don't want this to be another Roy Moore situation," Verdone said.

An estimated 75 percent of voters had already cast their ballots before the sex scandal emerged last week. If Montenegro comes away as the Republican winner on Tuesday, he'll bring his scandal with him when he faces a Democratic opponent in the April 24 special election.

"Montenegro winning — that's a big fear for Republicans right now," said GOP pollster Mike Noble. He said Republicans are worried that another sex scandal plagued GOP candidate could "impact the party's perception and brand."

Trump won the district by a large margin in 2016. But the same was true in Alabama. Yet Democrat Doug Jones beat Moore amid a slew of allegations of child molestation against the GOP candidate.

"The district is obviously tough, but Trump won it by 21 points, and he also won Alabama by 27 points," said Democratic strategist Rodd McLeod. "Obviously we're in a year where there's something changing — and if there's a wave election coming, and the Republican nominee is damaged, you could have a really close election."

Perhaps now would be a good time for Republicans to ask themselves what it is about their party that attracts candidates plagued by sex scandals.

And perhaps the Oval Office would be a good place to start looking for answers.