MIAMI -- Herman Cain brought his booming promises to transform Washington to South Florida on Wednesday, greeting an adoring crowd in a Cuban neighborhood of Miami seemingly unfazed by the recent troubles facing his campaign.
Yet Cain continued to contend with the challenge of operating a national presidential campaign, a challenge that has only grown since he rose to the top of the field – and began falling following accusations that he sexually harassed former colleagues when he worked at the National Restaurant Association.
Cain was swarmed by supporters and media as soon as he stepped out of his tour bus in front of Versailles restaurant and bakery in the Little Havana area of Miami. And once again, the aggressive behavior of his security detail became an issue, as it has several times at recent campaign appearances.
As reporters, camera crews, supporters and campaign advisers crammed into the bakery, conditions grew so close that security officers pushed people against a wall to allow an elderly man who was feeling overwhelmed pass through.
And a journalist with ABC News, Susan Archer, screamed loudly at one point: “Stop it! Stop it right now! Chill now! Stop pushing.”
Archer declined a few minutes later to explain what had happened. A Cain adviser, Ed Miyagishima, said he thought another reporter had pushed Archer. But in at least two previous instances, journalists have reported being pushed by Cain bodyguards.
Cain spoke only briefly on a stage outside Versailles. The surrounding parking lot was packed with a few hundred people, but many of those in attendance were with the media, with Cain’s entourage or regulars of the neighborhood and Versailles.
Manuel Oquendo, 65, a retired sales manager from Miami who came to the United States from Cuba in 1960, said he lives nearby and came out to hear Cain but remains uncommitted in the Florida Republican primary, which he said he will definitely participate in.
“If you have seen the latest debates, it’s kind of confusing,” Oquendo said, adding of Cain’s misstep when asked about President Obama’s policies regarding Libya: “His reactions are not good enough for me. I hope he does better.”
Still, others in the crowd shrieked at the sight of Cain, who was thronged as he made his way under the hot Florida sun toward the stage, Latin music pumping out of the sound system. Wiping his neck and brow with a handkerchief, Cain smiled as one woman shouted: “Woo! God bless you Herman!”
Roger Gonzalez, 33, an out-of-work security services worker from Miami, said he didn’t have a problem with Cain’s foreign-policy gaffe – and he is a big fan of the candidate’s 9-9-9 tax-reform plan.
“You’re going to slip up sometimes,” Gonzalez said, emphasizing that he will definitely vote for Cain in the primary.
Cain’s Florida tour was scheduled to continue in Coral Springs and West Palm Beach later Wednesday, and he was scheduled to return to the Sunshine State on Friday for appearances in South Florida, Orlando and Jacksonville.
Florida is one of a handful of crucial early states in the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. Its primary will take place fifth, on Jan. 31, after voting in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. Florida is also a critical and enormous swing state in the general election, making it a key place for the Republican candidates to build organizations to face off against Obama next fall.