Herman Cain may have been able to survive for a while in Cain vs. Politico. The right hate the media, and Cain played his base like a fiddle, tossing out media bias and Clarence Thomas references at every turn. It gave conservatives an excuse to rally to his side. It’s just the press, you know. They didn’t do anything about John Edwards, did they?

It’s nothing new to shoot the messenger, and conservatives of late have become so furious with the mainstream media that even a half-baked notion that this was all a racist plot was enough to rile many of them up. But now we have allegation of a specific incident. Now there is physical contact. And now the attorney for the first complainant says his client’s allegations are “very similar” and that Sharon Bialek’s story is “corroborating.” You know who knows if this is the case? The National Restaurant Association. It seems the time for that organization to be hiding in the shadows has passed. Was Cain accused of physical conduct, not simply uttering a vague pick-up line?

It’s going to become increasingly difficult for social conservatives, women and many other GOP voters to simply insist this is all about nothing. And you can believe, that in keeping with my earlier post, the media will be forced to interrogate Cain at every encounter from here on out. The source isn’t anonymous and the allegation is serious. He will not escape inquiry in any debate, press conference or media scrum.

And what about the conservative blogosphere and talk show hosts who ridiculed Politico and rushed to Cain’s side? Will their ardor for circling the wagons cool just a tad? I think it might.

Moreover, we should note that some of Cain’s defenders rallied to him based on a degree of exasperation with hazy sexual harassment law. What is “offensive”? Are we censoring the workplace? How are you to know if someone will be offended? (Having done anti-sexual harassment training for years for employer,s I can assure you that many of these sessions turn into debates about the First Amendment.) But Bialek’s allegation is nothing like that. There’s no point of personal expression to defend; there’s no political correctness involved.

So, yes, Sharon Bialek’s allegations change everything. Cain’s defenders, I suspect, will be fewer and more cautious. And perhaps some of them might even give the Politico reporters some credit. Well, that’s perhaps going a bit far.

UPDATE (4:15 p.m.): This report quoting a number of Iowa Republicans suggests my take was accurate.

UPDATE II (4:30 p.m.):Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America lowers the boom: “While seeing Gloria Allred insert herself into another national scandal (her last client was a porn star) was disturbing, listening to Sharon Bialek’s story of how she was dealt with by Herman Cain was even more shocking. I have to reiterate, that in my dealings with Mr. Cain, he has always been a gentleman. However, hearing that there is a growing number of women who have accused Mr. Cain of inappropriate behavior gives me pause. This woman is now the face of an issue that continues to grow and be a distraction for Mr. Cain’s campaign. Mr. Cain needs to address these new allegations head on. Unlike anonymous allegations, Ms. Bialek appeared credible and I was very disturbed by her characterization of what happened. Whoever Republican primary voters choose as president should be a man or woman of good moral character. We said when Bill Clinton was president that character counts and we still believe that.”