MILWAUKEE — Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain is trying to explain his Rick Perry moment in a videtotaped interview, just as the Georgia businessman tries to make his upstart campaign less controversial and more conventional.
Even as he continued to be dogged by sexual harassment talk on Monday, Cain momentarily lost his footing in a videotaped interview with the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He struggled to answer a question about whether he supported President Barack Obama's handling of the crisis in Libya.
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A top aide said later that Cain had not had enough sleep.
Cain hesitated when asked whether he agreed with Obama's decision to back Libyan rebels in overthrowing Moammar Gadhafi. The longtime Libyan dictator was killed last month.
"I do not agree with the way he handled it for the following reason," Cain said.
"Uh, nope that's, that's a different one," said Cain, who fidgeted in his chair and crossed his legs, then paused. "See, I got to go back, see, got all this stuff twirling around in my head. Specifically what are you asking me, did I agree or not disagree with Obama?"
Cain eventually explained that he would have done a better job than Obama assessing the nature of the Libyan opposition to Gadhafi. The Republican said he would have supported many of the steps taken to stop killings by Gadhafi's forces.
He conceded that might have ended up taking the same steps that Obama took.
Asked later about the exchange, Cain dismissed his stumble.
"I paused so I could gather my thoughts," Cain said.
Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon said Monday that Cain had four hours of sleep because of a busy campaign schedule when he sat for the interview, including the question on Libya. He said Cain took his time answering because the candidate wanted to make sure he was focusing on the right problem.
Cain's experience, nonetheless, evoked thoughts of Perry's halting, forgetful statements in a recent debate when the Texas governor declared that he would immediately eliminate three agencies of government if elected, but could cite only two — the departments of Commerce and Education. Videotape of Perry's performance went viral on the internet — he also is targeting the Energy Department — and he was the butt of jokes by late-night TV comedians.
With respect to Monday's interview incident, Gordon said that Cain had received briefings on recent Arab Spring developments in Libya, Yemen, Syria, Egypt and Tunisia in preparation for a Republican debate Saturday focusing on foreign policy issues.
Ultimately, Cain recovered from his awkward moment Monday and said that he would have done a better job than Obama in assessing the opposition to Gadhafi to make sure the rebels were not loyal to al-Qaida.
"After things erupted, now we discover that some of the members of the opposition were actually al-Qaida members," he told reporters in Green Bay. "That's not the proper due diligence in my opinion."
His interview incident occurred on the same day that a former boyfriend of Sharon Bialek, a woman who has publlicly accused Cain of sexual harassment, told a news conference that he and Bialeck had shared Cain's company at a dinner in the 1990s. Cain has steadfastly argued that he's never met Bialeck and doesn't recognize her.
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