Friends and longtime acquaintances say Cain has a gift for connecting with people, recalling names and exuding a warmth that belies his position as a successful executive. But they say it is possible that some may misconstrue his jokes and mannerisms.
“He’s professional, but he’s very friendly,” said Steve Grubbs, Cain’s Iowa chairman. “Maybe some people misinterpret friendly. But I can tell you this: He’s not afraid to give you a slap on the back or an enthusiastic handshake. He’s a gregarious person in many ways.”
Karol Markowicz, who worked as deputy press secretary to Cain during his 2004 Senate bid and traveled throughout Georgia with him during that campaign, said that Cain was, and still is, “extremely friendly.” But that didn’t translate into more glad-handing on the campaign trail than any other politician was doing.
“I don’t remember him being a big hugger,” she said. “If he slapped people on the back, he did it to men and women.”
Even as a top executive, Cain traveled often to speak with low-level employees and see how stores were faring on the ground. He rarely hesitated to pitch in if a restaurant was swamped and often slipped well-performing employees $50 on the spot to reward their work. The result, particularly at Godfather’s Pizza, was an abiding loyalty from his top deputies that remains today.
On the campaign trail, he has an unrestrained style that some supporters like but that at times rubs people the wrong way. He drew fire, for example, for suggesting that an electric fence be erected along the southern U.S. border. He later said he was joking but, in some settings, treated the idea seriously. Cain, who is black, also has joked repeatedly about race.
Cain had dinner with about a dozen Republican senators at Bobby Van’s restaurant in downtown Washington Tuesday night. He eluded reporters on his way in and out of the two-hour huddle.
“The focus was on just issues,” Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) told reporters as he left the restaurant shortly after 10 p.m., adding that the harassment allegations did not come up while he was in the room.
Among the lawmakers present were several from key early primary states, including Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) and Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.).
The previous day, Cain spoke at the American Enterprise Institute and alluded to his edgy sense of humor. As questions about the sexual harassment allegations intensified, he suggested that his humor might foster misunderstandings.
“Yes, I am an unconventional candidate,” he said. “And yes, I do have a sense of humor, and some people have a problem with that. But to quote my chief of staff and all of the people that I talk to around this country, ‘Herman be Herman.’ And Herman is going to stay Herman.”
Staff writers Chris Cillizza, Krissah Thompson, Brady Dennis and Felicia Sonmez and staff researcher Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.
More from PostPolitics:
Iowa Republicans play down Cain controversy
Cain says he is fundraising off of ‘smear’
Herman Cain sings at National Press Club (video)
Women were already cool to Cain