About six or seven months ago, Sen. Luther Strange's campaign heard that Roy Moore "liked to chase women around the courthouse," according to two Alabama Republican sources.
At the time, Moore faced a three-way Republican primary against Strange and Rep. Mo Brooks. In a tight race, it was clear the rumor could prove politically lethal.
"We did a lot of research. We tried and tried and tried," one source said. "I think if we were able to find the names out, we probably would have passed it along to a reporter to track down ... We just weren't able."
The second source said the campaign "was never able to get any solid information or leads or corroboration. Just like many people in Alabama, we heard a rumor."
Before any details emerged, Moore defeated Brooks in an August primary and Strange in a September runoff.
Last week, one month before he faces Democrat Doug Jones on Dec. 12, Moore was accused by four women of romantic pursuits while he was in his 30s and they between 14 and 18 years old. The accuser who was 14 said he initiated sexual touching in 1979.
On Monday, a fifth accuser said at a press conference that she was 16 years old when he offered her a ride home and violently attempted to force himself on her some time in December 1977 or January 1978.
Moore has denied the accusations, but Republican leaders increasingly have called on him to drop out — even if the party can't swap candidates on the ballot.
Although characterized in some press accounts as an open secret locally or within Alabama, the precise details of accusers' stories were not clear to many political operatives.
The Republicans aware of the Strange campaign's efforts said they heard nothing about the young age of women Moore allegedly pursued, only that there was sexual harassment related to court duties that may be hidden in bar complaints, bankruptcy, or divorce records.
Another well-connected Alabama Republican said they heard vague rumors, but nothing specific ahead of last week's Washington Post bombshell.
The third Alabama Republican source said they heard that Moore moved to Australia for a year in the mid-1980s because of "crazy things with women," but that he "never heard anything about young girls."
"You'd have thought fooling around with young girls would have come out in one of the chief justice races, which tells me it wasn't that open. Those were contentious races," he said. "It's easy when people say 'it was an open secret' now."
Moore was elected twice as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. He was removed from office in 2003 for defying federal court orders to remove a 10 Commandments sculpture and was suspended last year for telling state authorities to defy the U.S. Supreme Court's legalization of same-sex marriage.
A Strange spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which initially backed Strange. A spokesperson for Brooks also did not respond to a request for comment on on whether he heard allegations.
Chris Pack, a spokesman for the Senate Leadership Fund, which heavily backed Strange, said the group was unaware of rumors of misconduct about Moore.
A Republican official who has done opposition research work said campaigns and classic opposition researchers are ill-suited for the footwork and trust-building required to report such allegations of misconduct.
"It was an open secret, it was well known. The only issue was that people in opposition research deal with verifiable facts and public records," he said. “Storylines like this, this is why it’s important there are actually reporters out there with credibility who can talk to sources.”
Indeed, when rivals heard that Moore may have committed misconduct, they sought to rattle loose public records, such as bar complaints and court records regarding Moore's wife Kayla. The efforts did not yield corroboration.
A spokeswoman for Moore did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the GOP research effort, nor did Kayla Moore respond to a request for comment on characterizations about the nature of alleged court records pertaining to her.
It's unclear if there's any partisan explanation for the fact that the allegations emerged only after the Republican primaries, giving a major boost to Democrats in what otherwise would have been a longshot bid for Jones.
In anecdotal evidence against the timing being political, both women alleging sexual contact, Leigh Corfman, who says she was 14, and Beverly Young Nelson, who alleges the car assault occurred when she was 16, reportedly are Republicans.
One of the Republican sources aware of active research efforts ahead of the primaries said they don't think there's much to the timing, other than the fact that a reporter was finally able to track down names and convince the women to go on the record.
"I would not be surprised if some people had the names all along and used this as an opportunity," he said. "But I don't think these women were like, 'I'm ready to take down Roy Moore.'"