Cain troubles loom over Wednesday's GOP debate

By Steve Peoples

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 8 2011 3:17 p.m. MST

Sharon Bialek, a former National Restaurant Association employee, accused Cain this week of unwanted sexual advances more than a decade ago on a night they met to discuss her job prospects. She is the fourth woman to allege sexual impropriety, but the first to speak publicly.

"I don't even know who this lady is," Cain told ABC and Yahoo! "It's a distraction from the things we ought to talk about, which is this economy, energy independence, cutting spending, as well as getting this country back on track."

Still, even when the candidates seemingly try to stay focused on the issues, the hot topic of the day always seems to pop up.

On Saturday, Gingrich and Cain met near Houston to debate policy issues.

The event was designed to be exclusively on the economy but, toward the end, Gingrich lobbed an easy question to his rival: What had surprised him most about running for president?

Without hesitation, Cain used the opportunity to launch into a tirade about the media — a frequent punching bag usually excites the Republican electorate. Cain didn't explicitly mention the sexual harassment allegations and the media's covering of it, but the context was clear.

Later, Gingrich refused to comment on the allegations, saying only: "I'm glad to talk about policy."

Beyond Cain's struggles, there are substantive issues to discuss Wednesday, the first time the rivals were squaring off in more than three weeks.

Romney last week released a detailed plan to cut federal spending by $500 billion in his term as president. He would strip federal subsidies from Amtrak and deeply cut the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Romney would also fundamentally re-shape Medicare by introducing a voucher system, or "premium supports," to the popular health insurance program for the elderly.

His spending strategy drew sharp criticism from Perry's campaign last week. And other candidates, like Texas Rep. Ron Paul, favor far deeper cuts. With the Cain distraction, however, it remains to be seen whether Romney's opponents can quickly and effectively resurrect what had been an increasingly aggressive line of attack against him.

Michigan Republicans, meanwhile, fear they will lose an opportunity to call attention to their state's economic problems.

"It is a distraction for what could be a very good press day for Michigan and Michigan Republicans," said Saul Anuzis, a Michigan-based member of the National Republican Committee. "I think it's in every candidate's interests to stay focused on the issues."

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