Richard Drew, Associated Press
NEW YORK — Leaving little to the imagination, a Chicago-area woman on Monday accused Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain of making a crude sexual advance more than a decade ago when she was seeking his help finding a job.
"Come clean," Sharon Bialek challenged Cain at a news conference in New York at which she described herself as "a face and a voice" to support other accusers who have so far remained anonymous.
Cain's campaign swiftly denied Bialek's account. "All allegations of harassment against Mr. Cain are completely false," it said in a written statement.
Even so, Bialek's nationally broadcast appearance on cable television marked a new and — for Cain — dangerous turn in a controversy that he has struggled for more than a week to shed. An upstart in the presidential race, Cain shot to the top of public opinion polls in recent weeks and emerged, however temporarily, as the main conservative challenger to Mitt Romney.
Accompanied by her prominent lawyer, Gloria Allred, Bialek accused Cain of making a sexual advance one night in mid-July 1997, when she had travelled to Washington to have dinner with him in hopes he could help her find work.
She said the two had finished dinner and were in a car for what she thought was a ride to an office building.
"Instead of going into the offices he suddenly reached over and he put his hand on my leg, under my skirt toward my genitals," she said.
"He also pushed my head toward his crotch," she added.
Bialek said she told her boyfriend, an unidentified pediatrician, as well as a longtime male friend of the episode.
Allred, a sex discrimination attorney with Democratic ties, moved preemptively to blunt any attacks on Bialek's motives. She described her client as a registered Republican, a single mother and a woman with a long and successful work history.
Some of Cain's allies immediately made a target of Allred, a Democratic campaign donor, rather than focusing any anger on Cain's accuser.
Georgia state Sen. Joshua McKoon, who has endorsed Cain, accused Allred of "carnival theatrics" fueled by a partisan agenda.
"Her involvement makes it clear that it's a political smear job orchestrated by those on the left because there is nothing more terrifying than Herman Cain as the Republican nominee," the Republican lawmaker said.
But Doug Heye, a political consultant who is unaligned in the GOP race, said Bialek's allegations "are different because they involve a name and specific details."
He said Allred's involvement "is going to make some people disbelieve the charges out of hand because of the side show she creates. But Herman Cain has to be clear and convincing in his response."
Even before Bialek stepped forward, presidential rival Jon Huntsman and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour had publicly urged Cain to address sexual harassment allegations in greater detail.
It wasn't clear whether he would.
After spending much of last week denying accusations, he told reporters who sought to question him Saturday night, "don't even go there."
Cain had an evening appearance scheduled on the Jimmy Kimmel show, his only public event of the day.
According to lawyer and client, Bialek was employed for parts of 1996 and 1997 at the Educational Foundation of the National Restaurant Association, an industry trade group that Cain headed at the time. She said she first met him at an organization convention, interacting with him several times over the course of a few days.
After she was fired from her job about a month later, she said her boyfriend told her, "Herman seems to think highly of you. Why don't you contact him?"
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