Republicans in early voting states like Iowa seem to be giving Herman Cain the benefit of the doubt for now – but they also say they need to know more, nearly a week after the disclosure that he was accused of sexually harassing women who worked for him in the 1990s.
“It’s concerning, but it’s not a big deal,” said Cindy Baddeloo of suburban Des Moines, one of more than two dozen undecided Republican voters interviewed in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina in the days since the allegations – which Cain has repeatedly denied – surfaced.
“Nobody’s perfect,” she said.
The same for LaDonna Ryggs, chairwoman of Spartanburg County GOP in South Carolina. “You give me some substance to the questions, and then we’ll talk.”
With the furor over the allegations showing no signs of abating, it’s an open question whether supporters of Cain’s presidential campaign will stick with him, or whether the one-time long shot can increase his base of support at a time when many early state GOP activists are making up their minds.
And while the Georgia businessman topped a national poll taken this week, the new round of questions follow doubts that had already begun to form about him before he became enmeshed in this latest controversy.
“Fair or unfair, is anybody more likely to vote for Herman Cain as a result of these allegations? The answer is no,” said Phil Musser, a GOP strategist unaffiliated with any campaign.
Cain was sharply critiqued by his rivals over his tax proposal during a debate in Las Vegas last month. And questions later arose over his loyalty to the GOP base’s most enduring litmus test, opposition to abortion, after he said in an interview the decision was a matter of choice.
And the timing is problematic for Cain, too, just two months before the Iowa caucuses and as Cain presumably should be seeking to close the deal with undecided caucus-goers in the state.
He’s not slated to return to Iowa for another two weeks, and, if he follows through, he will have made just one trip to the leadoff caucus state over the course of three months. Meanwhile, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is stepping it up here, Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s gung-ho on advertising and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is hitting his stride.
Cain denied all along that he made suggestive comments to female subordinates while serving as president of the National Restaurant Association. Yet, over the past five days, he has given conflicting accounts about what, if anything, he knew about the alleged incidents as well as whether he knew about financial settlements two of his accusers reportedly received from the trade group.
He’s blamed the mainstream media, liberals and Perry’s campaign, which said it had nothing to do with it. A black conservative, Cain has said his race has played a factor in the turmoil.
And Friday, a lawyer for one of Cain’s accusers disclosed that she alleged “several incidents of sexual harassment” in a complaint filed more than a decade ago, a fresh accusation that complicated the Republican presidential hopeful’s determined bid to lay the politically explosive controversy to rest.
“As far as I can see, it wasn’t any different than Bill Clinton,” said New Hampshire Republican Howard Burrows, arguing Cain could survive the episode.
Likewise, none of the Iowa Republican activists interviewed at a GOP banquet in Des Moines where most of Cain’s rivals spoke Friday said the allegations disqualify Cain from their support, or that he should quit the race.
“People are so much more focused on the economy,” said Des Moines area Republican Jason McKibben. “They’re tired of gutter politics.”
Republicans nationally haven’t bolted the former national restaurant chain CEO who has recently risen from obscurity to near the top of national polls with Romney.
And a new Washington Post-ABC News survey taken after the allegations emerged Sunday showed Cain and Romney running nearly even atop the field of 2012 GOP presidential hopefuls, with most Republicans dismissing the harassment allegations. Seven in 10 Republicans say reports of the allegations don’t matter when it comes to picking a candidate.
But in a sign of the possible danger ahead, the poll found that Cain slipped to third place among those who see the accusations as serious, and Republican women were significantly more likely than men to say the allegations make them less apt to support the businessman.
While the questions apparently haven’t struck a blow against Cain in Iowa, their persistence is giving some GOP caucus-goers pause at a critical time.
A poll of likely Iowa caucus-goers sponsored by The Des Moines Register last week showed Cain narrowly leading in Iowa.
But Cain has a smaller campaign staff in the early states than many of his rivals. And he has only visited Iowa once in more than two months, while others are aggressively trying to claim an edge in the fluid caucus campaign.
The questions aren’t discouraging Iowa state Rep. Henry Rayhons from siding with Cain – yet.
“He’s got to come clean, or people are going to keep harassing him about it,” said Rayhons. “The longer it hangs out there, the less likely I am to support him.”
Source: The AP | THOMAS BEAUMONT