Herman Cain, working to keep his Republican presidential campaign on track after allegations of sexual indiscretions, said public support for his campaign should overcome what he calls “character assassination.”
“They want you to believe that we can’t do this,” Cain said during a campaign speech to about 200 people today at a Dayton, Ohio, hotel. “They want you to believe that with enough character assassination on me, that I will drop out.”
Cain, who is denying an Atlanta woman’s claims to have carried on an extramarital affair with him during the last 13 years, said yesterday that he was reassessing his campaign as a result of the story, which came to light about a month after four women alleged he sexually harassed them in the 1990s -- charges he has also denied. He repeated today in comments to reporters that “we’re reassessing and re-evaluating.”
Yet in public comments while campaigning across Ohio, Cain voiced confidence in a campaign powered by popular support.
“The establishment does not want Herman Cain to get this nomination,” Cain said. “The liberals do not want Herman Cain to get this nomination. But I happen to believe that the American people have a different idea.”
Rob Scott, president and founder of the Dayton Tea Party, noted that Bill Clinton faced similar accusations when he ran for president in 1992. As for the allegations against Cain, “only Herman Cain, God and those women” know for certain whether they are true, Scott said.
‘We’re His Base’
“Regardless, I think he can move past it,” Scott, 29, an attorney from Kettering, said in an interview. “When you’re going through difficult times, you go to your base, and we’re his base.”
Sarah Clark, 35, of Xenia, Ohio, brought her 9-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son to the speech in Dayton and said she likes Cain because he’s “not a politician.” Clark said in an interview she doesn’t believe the allegations are true, and if they are proven, “It would bother me somewhat morally, but I’m not sure it would make me not vote for him.”
Cain, a former Godfather’s Pizza chief executive, told aides in a conference call yesterday that he would decide over the “next several days” whether to “plow ahead,” according to a transcript of a staff conference call posted online by the National Review, which said it was on the five-minute call.
‘Reassessment’ of Campaign
One aide who participated said Cain began the call by denying the allegation of an affair, leveled Nov. 28 by Ginger White in an interview with the Atlanta television station Fox 5, and said it nonetheless called for a “reassessment” of his bid. Still, Cain indicated that the campaign would go forward, said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid publicly describing internal discussions.
In a fundraising letter Cain sent out yesterday, he referred to White as “a troubled Atlanta businesswoman” who “used national media outlets to promulgate a fabricated, unsubstantiated story” that they had an affair. “I am writing you today to assure you that this woman’s story is completely false,” he said.
“I am not deterred,” he told supporters. “We will continue on this journey to make America great once again.”
In an interview today on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” White described the relationship as “on and off” and said it began when she was single.
“It was a very casual affair,” she said. “Am I proud to admit to that? No, I am not.” She said she went on “several trips with him,” including to a Mike Tyson fight in Las Vegas.
Nothing in Return
White, who has acknowledged having financial difficulties, said that she had accepted gifts of money from Cain for “the last two and one-half years” and that he didn’t ask for anything in return.
In a speech at Hillsdale College in Michigan last night, Cain made no mention of the affair allegation as he pressed his case for a foreign policy based on “peace through strength and clarity.”
At the same time, he appeared to be bracing for the possibility he would have to make a quick exit from the race. The cable news network NY1 reported that he told an adviser to cancel a private dinner scheduled for Dec. 4 in New York with some of the city’s journalists and politicians, in case he dropped out. The dinner was to have been hosted by New York Post columnist Cindy Adams, the report said.
“We have to do an assessment as to whether or not this is going to create too much of a cloud, in some people’s minds, as to whether or not they would be able to support us going forth,” Cain told his staff on yesterday’s call, according to the transcript. “If a decision is made different than to plow ahead, you all will be the first to know.”
‘Back on Message’
J.D. Gordon, the campaign’s communications director, said Cain’s team was “looking forward to getting back on message,” starting with the foreign policy speech Cain delivered. Gordon discounted the significance of Cain’s call to aides, saying the candidate “told staff simply that, just as every time significant events occur, a reassessment is prudent.”
Cain, 65, is scheduled to travel to Ohio for rallies today, continuing his practice of spending time in states that hold no sway in the early voting in the Republican race.
White said in her Fox 5 television interview that Cain had treated her to lavish meals and stays at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Atlanta’s Buckhead district during an affair that began after the two met in Louisville, Kentucky, in the late 1990s and ended only eight months ago.
“It wasn’t complicated, and I was aware that he was married, and I was also aware that I was involved in a very inappropriate situation, relationship,” White said in the television interview.
White said that, while she had been reluctant to reveal the affair, Cain’s indignant denials of recent sexual harassment allegations against him by four other women persuaded her to go public.
Lin Wood, Cain’s Atlanta-based attorney, said in an interview that the candidate isn’t thinking of abandoning the presidential campaign.
“It would be premature to say he is contemplating” a withdrawal, said Wood, who said he talked with Cain after White’s story aired.
A reassessment of the “present situation” following White’s story is reasonable, Wood said, and “to translate that to ‘withdraw from the race’ is not the right conclusion to draw.”
Money for Rent
Wood also said Cain had given White money after she sent him a text message saying she couldn’t pay her rent. Wood didn’t say how much money Cain has given her.
During his call with staff, Cain described his tie to White as “just a friendship relationship,” and he told CNN on Nov. 28 that he was trying to help her because she didn’t have a job.
Once vying for front-runner status in the Republican race, Cain slipped to third place in a national poll released last week by Quinnipiac University. The poll showed Cain with 14 percent of the vote, trailing former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
A Bloomberg Poll conducted Nov. 10-12 in Iowa, where caucuses on Jan. 3 begin the nomination process, indicated that Gingrich would be positioned to benefit most among Republican presidential contenders if Cain were to end his bid. Cain was in a four-way tie for the lead with Gingrich, Romney and U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas among likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers, the survey found. Gingrich led as the second choice among voters who chose Cain as their favorite, drawing backing from 28 percent, five percentage points better than Texas Governor Rick Perry, who drew 23 percent.
Poll in New Hampshire
A separate Bloomberg Poll at the same time in New Hampshire, home of the first primary on Jan. 10, found that more than a third of Cain’s supporters shift to Gingrich as their second choice, while Romney attracts more than a quarter.
Gingrich, campaigning yesterday in Bluffton, South Carolina, told reporters that “this must be a very painful period” for Cain and his family. Gingrich also said: “He has to make a decision that he thinks is appropriate.”
Michele Bachmann, another Republican presidential contender, said of the latest allegation confronting Cain: “Clearly, it’s not helpful for his campaign.”
Asked if Cain should exit the race, the Minnesota congresswoman said on CNN yesterday, “That’s not for me to say.”
Distracting From Topics
Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. told the Boston Globe in an interview that Cain should consider dropping his bid. Huntsman, who is focusing his White House quest on a strong showing in New Hampshire, said the accusations against Cain are distracting from the substantive topics that should mark a presidential contest.
“Given the bandwidth that has been taken out of the discussion of any other issues pertinent to this campaign, a reconsideration might be in order,” Huntsman said.
Cain and his wife, Gloria, have been married for 43 years. In an interview with Fox News after the harassment charges emerged, Gloria Cain said she didn’t think her husband was capable of such behavior.
“I seriously, in my soul, don’t think he’s that type of person,” she said.
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