ATLANTA — Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain went on the offensive Tuesday against the only woman to publicly accuse him of inappropriate sexual behavior, the latest in a series of claims that have threatened his White House ambitions.
"Who is Sharon Bialek?" Cain's advisers asked in a statement that outlines the Chicago-area woman's "long and troubled history, from the courts to personal finances." Bialek on Monday accused Cain of behaving inappropriately when the two were alone more than a decade ago.
The statement from Cain's campaign included references to civil lawsuits in the Cook County Court system in Illinois allegedly relating to Bialek, and cited news reports of her involvement in a paternity case and a bankruptcy filing.
The statement, coming less than 24 hours after Bialek went public, presumably was an effort to make her appear less credible.
"In stark contrast to Mr. Cain's four decades spent climbing the corporate ladder rising to the level of CEO at multiple successful business enterprises, Ms. Bialek has taken a far different path," the campaign said.
Cain has vowed to "set the record straight" at a news conference Tuesday afternoon in Phoenix.
"There is not an ounce of truth to all these allegations" and the graphic account from Bialek is "totally fabricated," the Georgia businessman told late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel.
Bialek stood by her accusation when questioned Tuesday morning in the wake of Cain's denial, saying in a nationally broadcast interview that she had "nothing to gain" by coming forward. She said "it's not about me. I'm not running for president."
With the controversy now stretching into its second week, Cain was reversing his position from just a few days ago when he told reporters he was done answering questions about the issue.
"I'm going to talk about it," Cain said, adding "we are taking this head on."
That was before Bialek went on national television Monday and put a name and a face to what had, until then, been at least three anonymous sexual harassment allegations against Cain. Bialek's accusations — that Cain groped her in a car after she asked for his help finding a job — spun his unorthodox campaign into an uncertain new territory.
An upstart in the presidential race, Cain shot to the top of public opinion polls and emerged, however temporarily, in surveys as the main conservative challenger to Mitt Romney. Tea party activists and conservatives unenthused with the former Massachusetts governor have flocked to Cain's tell-it-like-it-is style and self-styled outsider image in recent weeks.
There were, however, growing signs of unease in conservative circles as, one by one, a handful of women claimed Cain acted inappropriately toward them while the head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s.
"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 Horn, who last week had condemned media coverage of the allegations against Cain. "He does need to take another step and answer a few more questions."
"Oh," exclaimed South Carolina GOP Chairman Chad Connelly when told details from Bialek's news conference. He said character issues matter in a state where the last governor tearfully confessed an affair and the current governor faced unproven allegations from two men that she had affairs. "Our voters care about moral attitude," Connelly said. "Character does matter."
Still, Cain backers remained solidly behind the former pizza company executive. They pointed to the presence of Gloria Allred — a high-profile attorney with Democratic ties — alongside Bialek at Monday's news conference in New York as proof that the latest claim was a partisan smear.
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