"Stand for Decency, Reject Roy Moore," read the bold headline in Birmingham, Mobile and Huntsville, all part of Alabama Media Group. Arguing that the credible sexual-misconduct charges against the former judge, a Republican, disqualified him, it endorsed Democrat Doug Jones for U.S. Senate.

OPELIKA, Alabama — A couple of weeks ago, the three biggest newspapers in Alabama splashed the same tough editorial across the tops of their front pages.

"Stand for Decency, Reject Roy Moore," read the bold headline in Birmingham, Mobile and Huntsville, all part of Alabama Media Group. Arguing that the credible sexual-misconduct charges against the former judge, a Republican, disqualified him, it endorsed Democrat Doug Jones for U.S. Senate.

Some readers cheered, and some disagreed enough to cancel their subscriptions.

But at a small-town daily in eastern Alabama, top editor Troy Turner wouldn't even consider running such an editorial.

"I would have bullet holes in my windows," said Turner, who grew up not far from the Opelika-Auburn News, where he supervises an 11-member newsroom staff. After starting there as a cub reporter in the 1980s, he came back in 2015 after holding high-ranking editing posts from New York City to New Mexico.

What's more, he said, his own staff has mixed views about Moore. Not everyone is convinced about the allegations first reported by The Washington Post last month. Four women said Moore pursued them romantically as teenagers. And one, Leigh Corfman, said Moore touched her sexually and guided her hand to touch him over his underwear when she was 14 and he was in his early 30s.

Still, this 12,000-circulation paper, which has won numerous statewide awards for excellence, has not ignored the issue.

Instead, mindful of how people feel throughout conservative Lee County (named after the Confederate general), it has taken a cautious approach.

Turner wrote an editorial last month calling for Moore to step down as a candidate, concluding that he could be not be an effective senator. Its headline, too, was bold: "It's time for Roy Moore to step aside for Alabama."

It began: "The damage is done. When the situation is so bad that it unites opposing political voices during an era of rigid political divide, it leaves little doubt about what should come next." Moore should withdraw, it said.

"It was one of the strongest stances the paper has taken," said Rex Maynor, publisher of the News, which does not endorse candidates.

There were some ticked-off readers, but no bullet holes.

And the staff has found other ways to give voice to voters grappling with their mixed emotions. Most importantly, it provides a forum for sometimes contentious discussion.

Many readers are dyed-in-the-wool Republicans and churchgoing Christians who can't countenance a candidate like Jones who supports abortion rights. Others are disgusted by Moore.

"People tell us that 'character' is the main issue," said Richard "Duke" Maas, the paper's digital-content coordinator.

But it's not clear what they mean, he noted: Moore's alleged sexual misconduct? His checkered record as a judge? Or his opponent's support for abortion rights, which deeply offends Bible Belt sensibilities?

Reporter Kara Coleman was out last week talking to residents in the two small cities the paper serves — the more blue-collar Opelika and Auburn, the college town that is home to Auburn University.

Outside the Coffee Cat, a cafe near campus in Auburn, Bill Levins, a 41-year-old beauty-supplies salesman, expressed a thought that seemed surprising even to him.

"This is the first time I'm thinking about voting for a Democrat," Levins said. He's troubled by the charges against Moore. "It's gone beyond Republican and Democrat."

The paper uses its Facebook page as a forum for discussion. There, plenty of unshakable support for Moore turns up.

"I never have and never will vote for a Democrat. I don't believe in this liberal hit job for one split second," wrote Nancy Gorman Andrews. And Laura Childs Jones referred to Jones as "the liberal baby killer."

As the newspaper often hears from its readers, that might not matter on Dec. 12.

"If the rest of the country said the sky is blue, Alabama would say it was green," wrote Nancy Strickland Hawkins on the News' Facebook page.

"Hell," responded James Claborn, "we'd paint it green."

Whatever happens, the paper will try to reflect its readership but won't shy away from providing some guidance, too.

"At the big papers, they don't go into the coffee shops and churches with their readers like we do," Turner said. "We have to be strategic crusaders."

Margaret Sullivan is The Washington Post’s media columnist.