Leading GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney broke his silence on the sexual harassment controversy surrounding rival Herman Cain on Tuesday, calling Sharon Bialek’s charges against Cain “disturbing” and ”serious.”


Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, speaks during a campaign stop at Giese Manufacturing, Monday, Nov. 7, 2011, in Dubuque, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

“This woman’s charges are particularly disturbing and they’re serious.”

Cain’s rivals in the GOP field have thus far remained mostly silent on the sexual harassement allegations surrounding him. But they began to weigh in Tuesday afternoon, just hours before Cain is set to sit for his own ABC/Yahoo interview. Later Tuesday, Cain is planning a press conference in Arizona.

Contemplating the fate of their opponent, Cain’s rivals have set a high bar for what Cain must do to clear his name.

Jon M. Huntsman, Jr, sounded a similar note to Romney, saying that the spotlight and conversation surrounding Cain amounts to a distraction.

““It’s a distraction and Herman Cain can deal with it however Herman Cain chooses to deal with it.” Huntsman said in an ABC/Yahoo interview earlier Tuesday. “It takes all of the oxygen out of the room....we get consumed with the scandal of the moment. Far be it from me to give Herman Cain advice. He’ll have to address these issues, as he will.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose campaign has been accused by the Cain camp of leaking the original story, dodged questions about Cain’s behavior, saying that he wanted to stay focused

“I don’t have an interest in getting off of my message...(there are) a lot of allegations, he said, she said,” Perry said. “Again, I’ve been focused on my business and I haven’t paid a lot of attention. I’m sure that campaign will appropriately address them.”

Speaking on Fox News, Republican pundit Karl Rove suggested that if there is exculpatory information from the National Restaurant Association’s investigation into allegations made by two women, then Cain should call on the trade group to release those files.

“He ought to be demanding, ‘Release those reports, they’ll vindicate me,’” Rove said.

And GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, also addressing a way forward for Cain, who he debated Saturday in Texas, said that Cain has reached something of a turning point.

“I think that at some point, in the near future, that Herman and his campaign have to lay all this out and put it to rest,” Gingrich said in a Fox News interview. “I think the pressure to do that will be very real.”