Herman Cain plans a press conference at 6 p.m. ET today. From what his campaign released yesterday — another denial, a jab at “celebrity” lawyer Gloria Allred and a swipe at Sharon Bialek’s past financial problems — it seems the once-jovial Cain is setting out to destroy his accuser(s). This would be a mistake.

First, Bialek hit the airwaves this morning and came across level-headed and sincere. Answering two of the Cain camp’s accusations, she said in an ABC interview she wasn’t paid to come forward and Allred wasn’t getting paid. As the Associated Press reported:

“I’m just doing this because it’s the right thing to do,” she said in one interview. Bialek said she was neither paid nor offered a job to go public with her allegations. She said she waited so long to come forward because “I was embarrassed ... and I just kind of wanted it to go away.”

Bialek said she encountered Cain at a tea party event earlier this year. “I shook his hand, and he remembered me,” she said. “He looked a little uncomfortable.”

Bialek said that lawyer Gloria Allred has taken her case without charging a fee. She acknowledged in another appearance that she faced dire financial difficulties a decade ago, and that she had filed for bankruptcy protection. But she said her decision to speak out about Cain was not financially motivated.

“It’s not about me. I’m not running for president,” Bialek said.

Asked about Cain’s characterization of her charges as a “total fabrication,” Bialek stood her ground, saying she went public because “I wanted to give him a platform to come clean, to tell the truth.”

She said, “I was trying to be nice about it and it just didn’t work.”

Some will believe her; others will not. But for those who think Allred makes Bialek less credible, they should keep in mind (as I learned several times in my legal career) that although Allred may be a publicity hound, she hasn’t been guilty of bringing forth frauds. It’s not easy to get to be a client in Allred’s firm; the vetting for that is more extensive than most campaigns perform on their own candidates.

But once Cain decides to go Clinton on us — strike out at the accusers as bimbos, frauds and manipulators — he risks offending and dismaying many more voters. And he should be careful. There may not be a blue dress in this tale, but the number of known and unknown women could be very large and the amount of corroborating information is unknown to Cain. An aggressive performance might encourage, rather than deter, more women from coming forward.

We forget that Bill Clinton survived Gennifer Flowers because, with wife by his side, he apologized. Americans love a good confession and forgive a lot. Cain may very likely be past the point of no return now. But if he had made amends as Clinton did or as Arnold Schwarzenegger did in his run for governor, he’d be in a different place. Those cases, of course, involved professional pols with good advisers and wives willing to vouch for their husbands in public. Cain is a different matter altogether.

His performance later today isn’t likely to save his presidential campaign, but it might preserve some small measure of dignity and decency he’ll need for his second act. Everyone gets a shot at a second act in America, don’t you know?