“This is the first time that the allegations have been about physical rather than verbal harassment. These are much more serious charges that require Cain to provide a more specific explanation than a blanket denial,” said Daniel Schnur, who advised Sen. John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign but is uncommitted in the 2012 contest.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour told the conservative magazine National Review on Monday: “If there is any substance to the claims, if the American people believe that somebody abused women, they are not going to elect him or her president. If this were taken as being true, and people believe it’s true, then I don’t think that can be overcome.”
The initial allegations against Cain — dating to the 1990s, when he was chief executive of the National Restaurant Association — were general and unspecific, and Cain denied them.
Sharon Bialek changed that Monday with a nationally televised news conference in which she accused Cain of groping her and trying to force her into a sexual act.
Cain’s campaign issued another denial but did not respond directly to Bialek’s claims: “All allegations of harassment against Mr. Cain are completely false,” said J.D. Gordon, a Cain spokesman. “Mr. Cain has never harassed anyone.” Gordon characterized Bialek’s charges as “bogus attacks.”
Cain himself went on ABC’s ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’ Monday night to vow he is “taking this [accusation] head on.” “There’s not an ounce of truth in all of these allegations,” he declared, but they seem to be altering the political calculus for the candidate.
“This changes the dynamic of the situation,” said Craig Robinson, a longtime Republican operative in Iowa who runs a political blog there. “Last week, the defenders of Herman were saying these are all anonymous people. Now we have a woman who has come forward in pretty plain language about what went on. He can’t just blame the media on this one.”
As the news of sexual harassment charges filed against Cain in the 1990s emerged last week, many conservatives blasted the accusations as anonymous sniping against a leading Republican contender and blamed the “liberal media.”
But Bialek’s comments will almost certainly force the former Godfather’s Pizza chief executive to offer his own version of his interactions with the woman, Republicans say. And the continuing focus on alleged sexual harassment in his past could push conservative voters who galvanized behind Cain to defect. That could significantly reorder the already topsy-turvy GOP race that has been defined by sudden surges by different candidates in opinion polls, followed by equally sudden collapses or setbacks.