CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — Herman Cain’s campaign rallies always attract a lot of attention. Throngs of well-wishers seek handshakes or autographs. An army of camera operators race around him as he disembarks from his campaign bus to mingle with the crowds.
Lately, another common element has emerged from the fever-pitch of the Cain road show: physical skirmishes involving the press.
One incident on Wednesday involved journalists jostling among themselves for position. Another featured a local police officer aggressively blocking a video journalist. In at least two instances, Cain's own private security guard physically blocked reporters, including one from The Washington Post .
There were two confrontational incidents on Wednesday, prompting Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon to touch base with the reporters involved and also to acknowledge in an interview that the campaign needs to address the issue.
“There’s intense interest in Mr. Cain from the media and the public,” Gordon said. “That’s particularly been the case the last month, where anywhere we go we’ll have anywhere from a dozen to 50 media.”
Since late September, the previously unknown, underdog candidate has rocketed to the top of public polls, become embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal, and fallen out of the top tier of candidates.
Just as Cain’s advisers had to learn quickly how to handle intense national scrutiny of a top-tier presidential campaign, they also are learning as they go about the nuts and bolts of the campaign trail, where big audiences and media packs call for more intense planning and crowd control than Cain had previously required.
Accused of harassing several women when he worked at the National Restaurant Association in Washington in the 1990s, Cain has been chased aggressively by media seeking interviews on the subject, Gordon said. At one point, a day or two after the initial story broke, Cain was cornered by a camera crew in the underground garage of CNN’s Washington studios, Gordon said.
Gordon acknowledged that such confrontations are the price of sitting at the top of the field, and he said the campaign needs to do more to prevent them. The campaign will conduct a thorough review of security procedures starting Thursday, he said.
The two incidents on Wednesday occurred as Cain made his way up the Gold Coast of Florida, rallying crowds first in Miami, then Coral Springs and finally West Palm Beach.
In the morning, Cain’s tour of the renowned Cuban restaurant Versailles was interrupted by loud shrieks. They came from Susan Archer, a video journalist with ABC News, who screamed loudly: "Stop it! Stop it right now! Chill now! Stop pushing!”
Archer was visibly shaken after the incident and declined a request for an interview. But witnesses, including Gordon, said other journalists jostling for position had pushed Archer, prompting her to cry out.
The second skirmish, at a campaign appearance at the Wings Plus restaurant in Coral Springs, was testier. Journalist Lindsey Boerma, of CBS News and the National Journal, was running alongside Cain’s giant red tour bus, trying to catch up with the candidate and shoot video as he boarded. A plain-clothed police officer stuck his arm out to block her, and the two collided.
The officer, later identified by Coral Springs police as Sgt. William Reid, demanded an apology from Boerma for hurting his arm. Boerma shouted back, “Are you kidding me? You just blocked me!”
Other camera operators began taping the ensuing exchange, and Reid, who identified himself only as a “citizen journalist,” took out his cell phone and began recording also.
Gordon said that the local police officer may have been “overzealous,” but a spokesman for the Coral Springs police department said that the officer was just doing his job. He was one of 12 local officers the city sent to the rally to “keep the peace” — in addition to the four local officers whom the Cain campaign hired to bolster its security detail for the event, Lt. Joe McHugh said.
Boerma was not wearing media credentials, McHugh said, and Reid rightly blocked her from getting too close to the candidate.
On Tuesday in Iowa, Washington Post reporter Aaron Blake tried to position himself to ask Cain a question as he exited a restaurant in suburban Des Moines. A Cain bodyguard backed into Blake with his back and shoulder when Blake declined to move from his position outside the restaurant’s side door.