Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore is pushing back on reports he sought sexual encounters with teens and minors in the 1970s by questioning the timing of the allegations and pointing to what he says is a sterling reputation as a public servant and private citizen.

But local Alabama reporting dating as far back as 2002 suggests his reputation in the state has been anything but sterling, and that his supposedly disturbing behavior has been a topic of discussion in and around his hometown for decades.

Moore has flat-out denied the worst of the allegations found in a Washington Post report published last week, including that he sexually assaulted a 14-year-old girl and that he gave another minor alcohol while on a date.

He has also questioned the timing of the Post report, suggesting that it is all part of a larger smear campaign spearheaded by the press and the Democratic Party.

“To think grown women would wait 40 years before a general election to bring charges is unbelievable,” the former Alabama chief justice said this weekend. "Isn't it strange after 40 years of constant investigation, that people have waited four weeks before a general election to bring their complaint? That's not a coincidence."

The Post report features testimony from four women who say Moore sought intimate encounters with them when he was in his 30s and they were teenagers. A fifth woman emerged Monday to allege Moore sexually assaulted her in his truck when she was a 16-year-old waitress at a diner he frequented. The first four women did not seek out national media. Rather, it was the other way around, according to the Post. Alabama locals tipped off the D.C.-based paper’s reporters, who then followed up on the stories by seeking out the alleged victims and convincing them to tell their stories. The fifth woman said she was emboldened to come forward after the first wave of accusers went on record.

To Moore’s claim it is “unbelievable” that it should take this long for these stories to come out: It is not at all strange that a man seeking national office would attract national scrutiny, and that scrutiny might uncover an ugly past. That’s usually how it goes with things like U.S. Senate races.

To Moore’s suggestion that the recent allegations stand in direct contrast to an otherwise spotless reputation as a standup guy: Local reporting, including a Montgomery Advertiser article dating back all the way to Oct. 13, 2002, suggests the Senate candidate’s supposedly matchless record of personal and professional conduct is more self-styled than earned. Alabama officials have been whispering about him for years.

“If you ask about Roy Moore in Gadsden these days, you’ll find he’s not universally admired and respected as he is in his little hometown of Gallant,” the report read. “At an Etowah County Courthouse, some of those who worked with Moore roll their eyes when asked about him but keep their mouths shut.”

The article continued, adding a plausible response to Moore’s suggestion that the allegations are politically timed:

There are plenty of stories to tell, the longtime secretaries, parole officers and lawyers said, but not on the record and not now, while Moore sits atop the state court system and controls its purse strings.

Teresa Jones, who served as Deputy District Attorney in Etowah County from 1982 to 1985, responded to the sexual misconduct accusations last week by saying, "As a Deputy DA in Gadsden when Roy Moore was there, it was common knowledge about Roy's propensity for teenage girls. I'm appalled that these women are being skewered for the truth."

She added later in an interview on CNN, "It was common knowledge that Roy dated high school girls, everyone we knew thought it was weird ... We wondered why someone his age would hang out at high school football games and the mall."

Moore served as deputy district attorney in Etowah County from 1977 to 1982.

For reference, it was outside a courthouse in Etowah County in 1979 that Moore reportedly struck up a conversation with a then-14-year-old Leigh Corfman, which eventually led to him picking her up at her home in Gadsden, driving her to his house in a remote location in the woods and inviting her indoors. Once inside, she said, Moore stripped to his underwear and then started to touch her, “over her bra and underpants and guided her hand to touch him over his underwear.

For further reference, Moore allegedly frequented the Gadsden Mall, which opened in 1974, as he trawled the town for teen companionship. Two women, Wendy Miller and Gloria Thacker Deason, said Moore asked them out on dates when they were 16 and 18, respectively.

Today, Alabama media are quoting Gadsden residents as talking openly about Moore’s purported preference for extremely young companionship, which they now say was “common knowledge” for some 30 years.

Moore continues to defend himself by questioning the timing of the allegations. If that’s his only defense, he may want to consider a new one. The way an increasing number of Alabamians tell it, the allegations were always there and they’ve been talking about this stuff for years.

Why is it coming out now? Because Moore’s Senate bid has attracted scrutiny from national newsrooms.

(h/t Timothy Burke)