Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain began receiving protection from the U.S. Secret Service on Thursday, his campaign said, making the Georgia businessman the first GOP presidential contender to received stepped-up security on the campaign trail.
Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon said Thursday night that the campaign asked for the protection after The Washington Post posted an article online that morning detailing a series of physical skirmishes involving journalists at Cain rallies.
The Cain campaign asked for the security and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and congressional leaders approved the request Thursday, said a government official, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.
Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan confirmed that agents would be providing security for Cain, but declined to say what the security would entail or what prompted the decision. The agency rarely comments publicly on security operations.
Gordon would not say how many Secret Service agents would be positioned with Cain, but the spokesman said the coverage began Thursday night in New York, where Cain taped an interview on the “Late Show with David Letterman.”
On the campaign trail, Cain “draws anywhere from a dozen to 50 media at his events," Gordon said. "When he gets out at a rally or a campaign stop, it has been increasingly common for media to be physically putting themselves and others in danger by trying to follow him with a lot of heavy equipment and cameras in close quarters like we saw yesterday."
Protection is given to major party presidential candidates, but federal law permits candidates to seek protection if they meet a series of polling and fundraising thresholds. The law requires the homeland security secretary to consult with congressional leadership before approving a request.
The earliest a candidate has ever been assigned protection in an election season was then-Sen. Barack Obama in May 2007, when Secret Service agents began tailing him on the campaign trail. Then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was also receiving protection that year.
Campaign security is a costly mission for the Secret Service, which has requested $113.4 million to provide security for the eventual Republican nominee -- a $4 million increase from the 2008 campaign and about two-thirds more than was spent for security during the 2004 election.
Costs for protecting President Obama and Vice President Biden are paid for by a separate budget request.
Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan told a House subcommittee in September that next year’s campaign would be “a very demanding and challenging year” as the agency plans to provide continued protection for Obama and Biden and their families, four former presidents, visiting foreign dignitaries and two presidential nominating conventions. This week the agency also led security operations at the Asian-Pacific Economic Conference in Hawaii.
Secret Service protection on the campaign trail hit a high point with 15 protectees in 1972 – the year Alabama Gov. George Wallace (R) was shot by a would-be assassin. Just three candidates received protection during the 2004 election.
Also Friday, Cain warned in a press conference in Florida that “the Taliban” might take over Libya in the wake of Moammar Gaddafi’s death, CNN reported.
“Do I agree with siding with the opposition?” he said when asked to explain the incoherent response he gave to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter’s question about Libya earlier in the week. “Do I agree with saying that [Gaddafi] should go? Do I agree that they now have a country where you’ve got Taliban and al-Qaeda that’s going to be part of the government? Do I agree with not knowing the government was going to — which part was he asking me about? I was trying to get him to be specific and he wouldn't be specific.”