Cain came out swinging hard yesterday against accusations by four women going back to the 1990s when he was CEO of the National Restaurant Association.
“The charges and accusations I absolutely reject,” he said at a news conference in Scottsdale, Ariz. “They simply didn’t happen.” He went on to declare, “I have never acted inappropriately with anyone.”
Cain showed how seriously he is now taking the accusations by retaining one of the country’s top attorneys in libel and defamation cases, Lin Wood of Atlanta. Wood gained fame by representing security guard Richard Jewell, wrongly accused of the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta. Wood has represented other high-profile people including John and Patsy Ramsey, the parents of little JonBenet, whose murder has never been solved.
When asked about the latest accusation by former NRA employee Sharon Bialek of Chicago, Cain said he did not remember her or recognize her name or voice. He said accusations by another woman, Karen Kraushaar, now the communication director at the Treasury Department, were “baseless.” He said the same about accusations by two other women.
It’s a dismaying turn of events. Cain was flying high before the allegations came out. He had, as noted here, become a political phenom. In a late August Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, Cain managed a scant 5 percent among Republican primary voters. Texas Gov. Rick Perry led with 38 percent, followed by Mitt Romney with 23 percent. But Cain enjoyed a remarkable 52 percent favorable rating from Republican primary voters.
By mid-October, Cain vaulted to the lead with 27 percent in the WSJ/NBC poll ahead of Romney’s 23 percent, while Perry fell to third with 16 percent. A week later he jumped to a wide lead among Republicans in Iowa, drawing 29 percent to Romney’s 21 percent with Ron Paul third at 10 percent. Cain also was running second to Romney in New Hampshire, had an 8-point lead in Georgia and was running strong in two other early voting states, Florida and South Carolina.
Since Cain entered the race, this column has pointed to the reasons for his popularity: He was straight talking, refreshingly candid, eschewing political correctness and personal attacks on opponents. His business experience and non-politician background appealed to people. So did his 9-9-9 tax reform plan consisting of a flat 9 percent business tax, a flat 9 percent individual tax and a flat 9 percent national sales tax, eliminating the payroll tax and the capital gains tax.
Now the allegations are undermining the very strengths that catapulted Cain to the top in the presidential nomination race. His favorability rating among Republicans is beginning to slip. Gallup’s average positive rating was 29 before the allegations came out and 20 after that point.
This unfortunate story is far from over. It remains to be seen if Herman Cain can survive the damage.