Unease mounts over Cain accusations

By Shannon Mccaffrey

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 8 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

The National Restaurant Association building in Washington, Monday, Nov. 7, 2011. 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.

Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

ATLANTA — Herman Cain sought to ride out the sexual harassment scandal engulfing his embattled presidential campaign by projecting a business-as-usual facade.

But there were growing signs of unease in conservative circles as a fourth accuser — Sharon Bialek — provided a name and a face to what had been anonymous harassment allegations against the GOP front-runner. Bialek's detailed and lurid accusations — that Cain groped her in a car after she asked for his help finding a job — spun his already embattled campaign into an uncertain new territory.

"He deserves a fair chance. But that doesn't mean he gets a pass. These are not anonymous allegations anymore unfortunately," said New Hampshire conservative activist Jennifer Hor, who last week had condemned media coverage of the allegations against Cain.

"I think he does need to take another step and answer a few more questions."

Cain told late night host Jimmy Kimmel that's exactly what he plans to do as he fights the claims head-on at a news conference slated for Tuesday afternoon in a Phoenix hotel.

"There is not an ounce of truth to all these allegations," he said on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" ''I'm going to set the record straight."

Cain told Kimmel he got angry and disgusted as he watched Bialek and her attorney, Gloria Allred. He said Bialek's graphic account was "totally fabricated."

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.

Earlier Monday, the Cain camp flatly denied the charges.

"Mr. Cain has never harassed anyone," spokesman J.D. Gordon said in a statement.

And they insisted that the newest allegation changed nothing and said they were still planning to attend a private speech in Phoenix Tuesday morning and a debate Wednesday night in Michigan.

"We are staying on message and talking about the issues," Gordon told The Associated Press.

 Bialek, in a separate interview Monday, said she had hoped Cain would announce a press conference after her statement to apologize to her. But instead she learned he issued the stern denial.

"I know what happened, and he knows what happened," Bialek said on CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight. "One of my whole objectives was to give him the opportunity to come forward, to redeem himself, say, 'Hey, I'm sorry. I did this. It happened. And let's move forward.' And it is unfortunate. I'm very disappointed that he didn't take the lead in this."

When asked if Cain should be president, Bialek said: "I don't think we can have anyone in the White House who is unable to tell the truth."

Soon after Bialek aired her accusations at a news conference in New York with Allred by her side, the Cain campaign released a new web video — targeting voters in the lead-off caucus state of Iowa — highlighting what they say are excessive federal regulations on farmers that are driving up costs for consumers.

But the campaign also appeared to hunker down in damage control mode. Voicemails for Gordon and campaign manager Mark Block were full by Monday afternoon.

Bialek said Cain made a sexual advance in mid-July 1997, when she had travelled to Washington to have dinner with him in hopes he could help her find work. Cain was the head of the National Restaurant Association at the time. Bialek had been fired from a job in the group's education arm. She had met Cain previously at a convention and had asked if he would help her find work.

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