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Amid allegations against Cain, rivals ignore issue

By Thomas Beaumont

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Nov. 4 2011 8:01 p.m. MDT

Republican presidential hopeful former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum speaks during the Iowa Republican Party's Ronald Reagan Dinner, Friday, Nov. 4, 2011, in Des Moines, Iowa.

Charlie Neibergall, Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa — Herman Cain's presidential rivals focused Friday on anything but the decade-old sexual harassment allegations dogging the Georgia businessman's campaign.

No one, it seemed, was eager to weigh in on Cain and the furor that has consumed the race for the GOP nomination over the past week. Five of Cain's opponents were in Iowa to court Republicans at a GOP dinner in the state that holds the race's leadoff caucuses in just two months.

None mentioned Cain by name during remarks to about a thousand of the state's most active volunteers, donors and insiders.

As the day began, Bachmann, also campaigning in Iowa, told NBC's "Today" show "you won't find any surprises with me" but otherwise refused to talk publicly about the allegations against the Georgia businessman.

During her turn at the podium, she ignored Cain and offered up a spirited praise of the United States.

"There is nothing like it because, you see, in this nation we value each life, each individual life," Bachmann said. "For us, you see, it is because we are made in an image and a likeness of a holy God."

Texas Gov. Rick Perry used his turn to criticize business as usual in the nation's capital.

"The future of America is too important to be left to the Washington politicians," Perry said. "Let's take our country back."

Santorum chose to use his time before a thousand of Iowa's strongest activists to promote cultural issues that he is making central to his campaign.

"America is not just about taxes and spending. ... It's not just about the economy," Santorum said hours after delivering a campaign speech on values.

"We cannot have a strong economy without strong families and strong morals."

Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, a favorite of the libertarian wing of the GOP, decried Washington's spending and the nation's military actions in his remarks.

"They're not willing to admit this truth: we have spent too much," Paul said.

Gingrich alone made a passing reference to Cain's "9-9-9" tax plan in praising the entire GOP field's fresh thinking on taxes. He said new ideas — and Republican victories — were needed to combat high unemployment and a sour economy.

"We need a Congress, as well as the presidency, to bring America back," he said.

Ahead of that forum, Gingrich advised Cain to "slow down, take a deep breath."

But Gingrich said the tough questions and intense scrutiny comes with a presidential campaign.

"This is a very hard business — and it should be," Gingrich told CNN. "This is the presidency of the United States. If you can't get through the campaign, you sure can't govern."

Back in Washington, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney delivered a speech about cutting spending in an appearance before Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group aligned with the tea party. He made no mention of Cain even though he spoke just minutes before the Cain took the stage.

Neither Romney nor Cain was attending the Iowa dinner, though both are competing in the state.

Cain has been struggling to get past allegations of sexual harassment made in the 1990s by at least two women who worked with him when he was head of the National Restaurant Association. Two reportedly received financial settlements.

However, earlier in the week, a Santorum adviser suggested that the public didn't know all the facts and that Cain should allow the trade group to release his accusers from confidentiality agreements. Gingrich decried media coverage of the allegations and said Cain's tax plans deserve more attention.

And Santorum said Cain had enough reasons on public policy to give conservatives pause without digging into his private life.

Over the past five days, Cain has repeatedly denied wrongdoing even as he gave conflicting accounts about what — if anything — he knew about the alleged incidents as well as whether he knew about the financial settlements.

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