ROCHESTER, Mich. — Herman Cain undoubtedly will be given another chance at Wednesday night’s nationally televised Republican debate to defend himself against accusations that he sexually harassed at least four women while working at the National Restaurant Association in Washington during the 1990s.
But Cain’s big challenge won’t be to navigate those charges, as he did at a press conference in suburban Phoenix on Tuesday, but to reclaim the narrative of his campaign by showcasing the simple and appealing policy proposals and folksy charm that has propelled him into a leading candidate in the Republican presidential field.
Cain’s campaign — and much of Washington — have been consumed for ten days with the allegations, which began with an Oct. 30 report in Politico about a former colleague at the restaurant association who filed a sexual harassment claim against Cain. The woman, Karen Kraushaar, eventually reached a settlement with the association to which Cain was not a party.
Kraushaar came forward Tuesday to identify herself publicly for the first time and to urge the other alleged victims to hold a joint press conference and present their stories as a “collective body of evidence” — a possibility that is sure to keep the controversy alive.
But Cain did his best Tuesday to turn the page. At a nationally televised appearance in a room crammed with reporters and TV crews, Cain pushed back forcefully against the allegations, claiming he has never behaved inappropriately toward any woman, and charging his accusers of being part of a coordinated effort to wreck his character and undermine his campaign.
Cain called the press conference in response to the most recent allegation, which came Monday from Sharon Bialek, a former employee of the association’s Chicago office who alleged that Cain, after a dinner in Washington 14 years ago, ran his hand up her skirt and tried to force her head toward her car. Bialek was the first woman to come forward publicly after a series of anonymous allegations were described in numerous media reports.
“We are not going to allow Washington or politics to deny me the opportunity to represent this great nation,” Cain said, adding that he was willing to take a lie-detector test. “As far as these accusations causing me to back off and maybe withdraw from this presidential primary race — ain’t gonna happen.”
Wednesday’s debate, hosted jointly by the Michigan Republican Party and the cable news network CNBC and taking place on the campus of Oakland University in the suburbs of Detroit, will give Cain an opportunity get his campaign back on track. Expect him to try to pivot the conversation away from settlement agreements, gropings in automobiles and whether he remembers any of the accusers and toward his signature 9-9-9 tax overhaul and the outsider, businessman resume that has made him so popular among conservative Republicans.