Cain’s intentions, however, remained unclear. His personal attorney, Lin Wood, said the candidate was deciding whether to drop out of the race. Cain’s campaign spokesman said he isn’t making that decision now. And Cain’s campaign manager, Mark Block, said in an interview with ABC News on Tuesday night that there is “no way he’s dropping out.” Block said the term “reassessment” was meant to imply a “strategic reassessment” and “not a reassessment of withdrawing” from the race.
But after months of dismissing criticism of his ideas and separate allegations of sexual harassment, Cain essentially was admitting something new: This one had hurt.
“With this latest one, we have to do an assessment,” Cain said. He denied the most recent allegation, as he has the others. “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 said he would continue to campaign for the Republican nomination while he spends several days considering his chances.
Supporters who recently spoke with Cain painted a conflicting portrait: Some described him as upbeat and determined to press on. And in a confident speech on foreign policy in Hillsdale, Mich., on Tuesday night, he showed no signs of giving up.
In a fundraising e-mail sent Tuesday, Cain referred to the new allegation and said: “I am not deterred. . . . We will continue on this journey to make America great once again.”
But a different assessment was offered by an associate who said that, even nine days ago, Cain was resigned to the fact that his momentum had peaked and his campaign was losing steam.
“He was acutely aware of his own mortality,” said the associate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe what was characterized as a private conversation.
If Cain bows out of the race, the candidate most likely to benefit would be former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who has surged in the polls as Cain has declined. With both Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) having faded, Gingrich could make the case that he is the last, best hope for conservatives to challenge former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
“I think it benefits Newt because it is in Romney’s interests to have the conservative vote as widely dispersed as possible,” said Rich Galen, a former aide to Gingrich who is neutral in the current race.
Supporters on Tuesday’s conference call said they were unclear what would happen next — even after hearing from the candidate himself.
“They’re just trying to figure out, in the next few days, where this leads them,” said Scott Plakon (R), a Florida state legislator and a state co-chairman of Cain’s campaign. He added: “What that exactly means, I do not know.”