Herman Cain appears to be surviving the growing scandal that is swirling round him in the light of accusations that he has a history of sexually harassing women.
The first polls since the claims surfaced provided the former pizza mogul’s campaign with its first piece of good news since the weekend.
A Rasmussen survey among likely GOP primary voters in South Carolina gave him a 10-point lead over nearest rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Three out of four respondents said they knew about the harassment claims, but fewer than one in three believed them.
And a national Rasmussen poll taken on Wednesday gave Cain a three point lead over Romney, 26 percent to 23 percent among likely primary voters. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was third with 14 percent, while no other candidate reached double figures.
Twenty caucus goers in Iowa also said they would not change their vote because of the scandal that has overshadowed the Republican presidential race since Sunday.
But that could all change, top pollster Doug Schoen told Newsmax on Thursday. “It’s just too early to tell,” he said.
“We have three women, we don’t know who they are, we don’t know what the specific allegations are and we don’t know the details of the agreements they signed. But right now the indications are that the voters are not letting it affect their views.
“It’s obviously not good for Herman Cain because he has had to spend four days dealing with this instead of talking about his 9-9-9 plan,” added the Democratic pollster. “Who knows if it is a diversion or if it is something more?”
One defining moment which could decide whether the scandal has legs is likely to come on Friday when Cain’s wife Gloria, who has shunned publicity and has not been on the campaign trail, appears on Fox News for an interview with Greta Van Susteren.
Radio host Martha Zoller, who is planning to run as a Republican candidate for Congress in Georgia’s 9th District and is a close friend of the Cains, told the Daily Beast, “He is the big, gregarious personality. She is this tranquility of the campaign.
“She is very supportive, but her one reservation was that she did not want to be in the spotlight. She understands that at some time that may come,” added Zoller.
“Until then, he loves her so much that he's going to protect her. They're crazy about each other.”
The harassment story broke late on Sunday when the website Politico reported that two women had laid formal complaints against Cain in the late 1990s when he was head of the National Restaurant Association, where they both worked. Full details of the allegations are unclear, but it has been reported that one said he had invited her to his hotel room during a convention in Chicago and the other involved an alcohol-soaked lunch in Virginia.
Both women left the association with five-figure pay-offs after signing confidentiality agreements that forbade either side from speaking about what happened. Initially Cain said he knew nothing about any settlement, then he said one was for two or three months salary. Now reports from Politico and the New York Times put them at $45,000 and $35,000 respectively.
A third employee told the Associated Press on Wednesday that she had considered laying a complaint after Cain invited her up to his corporate apartment in Washington, D.C., but decided against it.
The issue was further complicated when syndicated radio host Steve Deace claimed that Cain – whom he labeled “morally inconsistent" – had made inappropriate comments to two members of his staff during a visit to his studios in Des Moines, Iowa.
Deace said that Cain, who has been married for 43 years, is “compromised in his private life.”
Deace gave an impromptu press conference outside his studio on Wednesday evening while two female staffers were hustled away from reporters by security guards. The host would not say when the incident occurred, however it is known that Deace interviewed Cain in Des Moines on January 14.
None of the names of the women that Cain is alleged to have pestered have so far been revealed. The Chicago hotel woman is known to work for the federal government as a spokeswoman for several agencies. She is married to a registered Washington lobbyist and lives in Maryland.
Her lawyer, Joel Bennett said he will approach restaurant association to ask it to allow his client to speak, as, he says, Cain has broken the agreement by commenting. But even so, he said she only wants to make a written statement rather than come forward publicly.
Cain rose to the top of the polls for the Republican nomination for the White House in October after a series of flubs from Texas Gov. Rick Perry knocked him out of the top tier, and so far he seems to be maintaining his position as the favorite among those who do not want to see Romney as the party’s choice to run against Barack Obama next November.
George W. Bush’s former senior adviser Karl Rove told Fox News it is normal for an under-fire candidate to hold steady in the first few days of a scandal. “There’s a rally-around-the-candidate phenomenon that goes on,” he said.
But Rove said that Cain’s inability to get his story straight could end up as the most damaging aspect of the whole saga.
“First this was a smear, then he didn’t know anything about it, then he knew about something involving one person, and now it turns out to be about two, and now we got a third person coming forward – and actually we have another person coming forward in the form of an assistant to a very popular radio show host in Iowa who, apparently, something mysterious and unpleasant, inappropriate, went on.”
Rove pointed out that Cain’s camp knew the allegations were likely to be revealed for 10 days. “What you do in crisis communications is you sit down and say, ‘Okay. What do we know? Let’s get the lawyers in the room. Let’s figure out what the facts are. How are we going to respond to this if it surfaces?’ And you get all of the facts and all of the story ready at the beginning.
“The worst thing is to have a shifting story which is what we saw here.”
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