Herman Cain becomes target of desperate 2012 GOP candidates

at 05:07 PM ET, 11/02/2011

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) last night joined Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) in questioning former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain over recently-uncovered sexual harassment allegations from Cain’s time at the National Restaurant Association.

“This is the year when we can't have any surprises with our candidate,” Bachmann told a crowd of Iowa supporters. She echoed Santorum strategist John Brabender, who said Tuesday morning that Cain needed to “be forthcoming so that you are vetted.”
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), on the ropes, questions Herman Cain.  (ROBERT GALBRAITH - REUTERS)

But more notable than the presidential candidates attacking Cain are the ones who haven’t.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney have both completely ignored the harassment claims (and Cain’s odd responses).

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who can (and does) say whatever he wants, commented only to speculate about “who is making the charges and what the motivations are.” Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich dismissed the allegations as “gossip.”

“There’s no reason to take on the potential baggage” of bringing it up said former Bush White House political director Sara Taylor Fagen. “It’s blowing into such a big news story that they dont have to.”

Iowa voters are largely playing down the allegations. Even if Cain’s loss would be Perry and Romney’s gain, neither can afford to offend conservatives inclined to think of the story as a liberal media conspiracy. Moreover, any comment on the story opens up the candidates to further questions about where they stand on the murky incident.

Governor Perry is focused on his policies and vision to to improve our economy and create jobs,” said spokesman Mark Miner. “That's what people are concerned about.”

Romney, asked about the story on a Denver radio station Wednesday, said he didn’t want to comment without all the facts.

Bachmann and Santorum have nothing to lose. Both contenders are mired in the single digits. They want to get shots in wherever and whenever they can, and here they have an opportunity to draw contrast and get their names attached to a big story. Bachmann is also the only woman in the field, which gives her criticism in this area a little more heft.

If one of Cain’s accusers goes public and reveals damning details, the story might become so big that the top-tier candidates feel compelled to weigh in. But for now, the only candidates interested in talking are the desperate ones.

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