President Donald Trump doubled down on his support for embattled Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore at a Florida rally Friday night, telling supporters to "get out and vote for Roy Moore."
Many had speculated that the rally in Pensacola, which is near the Alabama border and feeds television markets in the state, was a backdoor way for the president to give Moore's campaign a boost without actually setting foot in the state.
Moore, who is 70, has been dogged by multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, including accusations that he molested two teenage girls and pursued romantic relationships with several others while in his 30s. He has denied the allegations.
Trump did not mention Moore for the first 40 minutes of his address, which lasted approximately 80 minutes. Finally, appearing to acknowledge a Moore supporter in front of the stage, the president asked how many members of the crowd were from Alabama.
"We cannot afford ... to lose a seat in the very, very close United States Senate," Trump said. "We need somebody in that Senate seat who will vote for our 'Make America Great Again' agenda … So get out and vote for Roy Moore. Do it. Do it."
Trump reiterated past criticisms of Moore's Democratic opponent, Doug Jones.
"We can’t afford to have a liberal Democrat who is completely controlled by Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer," the president said. "His name is Jones and he’s their total puppet and everybody knows it."
The president also referenced one of Moore's accusers, Beverly Young Nelson, who admitted Friday that she had written part of an inscription in her yearbook that she originally attributed to Moore in its entirety.
"So did you see what happened today?" Trump asked. "You know, the yearbook? Did you see that? There was a little mistake made, She started writing things in the yearbook."
Trump then took a shot at Nelson's lawyer, Gloria Allred, saying, "Anytime you see her, you know something's gone wrong."
White House spokesman Raj Shah told reporters onboard Air Force One that the president and White House have made clear they find the allegations "troubling and concerning" and believe they "should be taken seriously." But he said Moore has maintained his innocence, and that should be taken into account as well.
"Ultimately his endorsement is about the issues," said Shah. "He doesn't want to see Alabama elect a Nancy Pelosi/Chuck Schumer puppet who's going to be wrong on the issues and not support the agenda," he said, referring to top congressional Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.
Top Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, had called on Moore to step aside after the allegations were made public.
During the rally, Trump also crowed about stock market gains and other upbeat economic indicators. He said he was confident he'd win re-election in 2020, despite his dismal approval rating.
"I think it's going to be very hard for somebody to beat us in a few years," Trump said, pointing to the impact on 401(k) investments. "All you have to say is: With us it goes up, with them it goes down. And that's the end of the election, right?"
But the president also touched on some darker themes, telling the audience, "It's being proven we have a rigged system."
"This is a sick system from the inside," Trump said. "And, you know, there is no country like our country but we have a lot of sickness in some of our institutions."
Trump also took his now-customary shots at the news media, referring to suspended ABC News correspondent Brian Ross as a "fraudster" and mocking CNN for an incorrect report earlier in the day on his campaign's contacts with Wikileaks.
"They apologized! Thank you CNN!" Trump cried in mock gratitude. "Thank you so much! You should have been apologizing for the last two years."
The crowd at the Pensacola Bay Center included some Alabama voters who traveled across the border for the rally.
"These are lies, just malicious lies," said John Maddalena, head of the south Alabama chapter of "Bikers for Trump." Maddalena and his wife, Alisha, rode to the Trump rally from their home near Montgomery, Ala.
Alisha described herself as a "strong woman" who still doesn't believe Moore's accusers.
"You let him sit there and pass judgment on people" as a jurist "for 40 years and don't say anything?" she asked. "You wait until he's running for the Senate to come up with this? That makes you suspicious."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.