Nashua, N.H. – GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain made waves again Thursday as he returned to this crucial primary state for the first time in a month. This time it had nothing to do with what he said, but rather where he didn’t show up.
Cain never made it to a planned question-and-answer session at the Union Leader newspaper, which has long been an influential voice in the state’s Republican politics and whose endorsement could prove critical in the Jan. 10 primary. And his absence wasn’t taken lightly.
Cain had been scheduled to spend an hour taking questions in a session that would be videotaped by C-SPAN, which had taped similar sessions at the newspaper with GOP candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum. When Cain’s campaign objected to having the meeting videotaped and asked that the session be shortened to 20 minutes, the newspaper’s publisher refused the requests.
That led to a blame game in which the Cain campaign insisted that the newspaper had canceled the interview, and the paper called Cain a “no-show” in an online story. Cain’s spokesman, J.D. Gordon, said the campaign would try to reschedule the session.
The dust-up came days after a video of Cain’s prolonged answer to a question about Libya during a meeting at another newspaper – the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – went viral online and provoked more questions about his foreign policy chops.
Instead of attending the scheduled Union Leader meeting, Cain showed up early at the Airport Diner in Manchester to shake hands and chat up patrons. He taped a town hall-style meeting hosted by a local television station and spoke to a rally of about 150 supporters in a Radisson ballroom in Nashua.
Despite repeated questions about the run-in with the Union Leader, Cain said only, “They canceled.” But he did make a point over the course of the day to chide the media for what he called its fascination with conflict rather than substance.
“With all due respect, the things that the media focuses on, the people don’t,” he said during one interview in the lobby of a Holiday Inn. “The voters are looking at my leadership experience. They are looking at the ideas that I’m putting on the table.”
In a defiant and somewhat defensive stump speech in the early afternoon, he told supporters that “some people want to convict me in the court of public opinion,” a not-so-subtle reference to the allegations of past sexual harassment that have dogged his campaign in recent weeks. “But the people on the Cain train don’t get off because of that crap!”
Cain also criticized the barrage of attention that has been spent analyzing and parsing his videotaped answer about Libya. Rather than fumbling for a coherent response, as it had appeared to many viewers, he said he had merely paused to gather his thoughts.
“I think before I speak,” he said. “What a novel idea.”
Cain reiterated what he has said often in recent days -- that no one official should be expected to know the details of every foreign policy predicament in every corner of the globe; that’s why good leaders surround themselves with capable advisers.
“We have plenty of experts,” he said. “We need a leader, not a reader.”
Cain had left the warmth of south Florida, where he had campaigned much of Wednesday, for the autumn chill of New Hampshire to try to gain ground in a state where Romney holds a commanding lead in the polls.
On Thursday, Cain acknowledged the unlikelihood of a primary victory in New Hampshire and sought to temper expectations.
“Mitt Romney’s lead is so large, we’re not targeting trying to beat him,” he said. “But we want to close the gap and make sure that we continue to be far away from the rest of the pack.”
Later, at the rally in Nashua, he told supporters that he had visited the state 22 times this year and intended to return often in coming months.
“We’re going to be back, and we’re going to be back a lot,” Cain promised.
Within minutes, he was being whisked away to New York for a scheduled appearance on the “The Late Show with David Letterman,” then back to the warmth of Florida for more stops on Friday.
More on PostPolitics