NEW YORK (AP) — President Donald Trump will appear at a campaign-style rally in Pensacola, Florida, next week, a move that brings the president less than 20 miles from the Alabama border just four days before a special election that will decide the fate of embattled Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore.
The White House had distanced itself from Moore in recent weeks, and several high-profile Republicans called on him to quit the race altogether, following several allegations of sexual misconduct. Just three days ago, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump would not campaign in Alabama on Moore's behalf.
The president will instead appear at a "Make America Great Again" rally on Friday night, Dec. 8, at the Pensacola Bay Center, according to a person familiar with the planning who was unauthorized to discuss the president's movements publicly. The city is roughly an hour's drive from Mobile, Alabama, one of the state's largest cities.
While much of the Republican establishment in Washington has stood firmly against Moore, Trump and his allies are beginning to engage.
A political group aligned with former Trump strategist Steve Bannon is spending at least $150,000 on a new television, radio and digital advertising campaign set to begin running across Alabama on Saturday. The investment, which is largely aimed at attacking Democrat Doug Jones, could swell to $400,000 to help counter Democrats' steady advertising dominance in the race, according to Great America Alliance senior adviser Andy Surabian.
At the same time, the Trump-aligned super PAC America First Action has been polling the race to help determine whether to invest in its own advertising campaign to benefit Moore, according to spokeswoman Erin Montgomery. The group's internal polling suggests the race is a tossup.
Trump's appearance along the border is a surprise, but it comes as the White House was discussing whether Trump should also rally support behind the embattled Republican from afar through recorded telephone calls, text messages or social media, according to two officials with knowledge of the discussions who didn't have permission to speak publicly.
Like Moore, Trump has also faced several allegations of sexual misconduct. Both men have denied the accusations.
The Alabama Senate election is Dec. 12.
Miller reported from Washington.