Unease mounts over Cain accusations

Published: Sunday, Oct. 4 2015 6:47 a.m. MDT

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) 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)

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.

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.

She said she asked Cain what he was doing and recalled he replied, "You said you want a job, right?"

Bialek is the fourth woman to say that Cain engaged in inappropriate behavior during his time at the helm of the restaurant group.

Two women who worked there filed sexual harassment complaints.

A third woman told The Associated Press last week that she considered filing a workplace complaint against Cain over what she deemed sexually suggestive remarks and gestures that included a private invitation to his corporate apartment.

Still, some remained solidly behind the former pizza executive, unmoved by Bialek's account. They pointed to the presence of Allred — a high-profile attorney with Democratic ties — as proof the claim was a partisan smear.

"The fact that she's involved removes all credibility," Georgia Christian Coalition president Jerry Luquire said. "If he says he didn't do anything than I believe him."

For Cain's core supporters — tea party activists and evangelical voters — distrust of the media is high. And the accusations against Cain only seemed to galvanize their support.

With that in mind, Cain's leading Republican rivals for the White House steered clear of he scandal on Monday declining to comment.

But there was also evidence the latest allegation as well as the cumulative toll of multiple women making claims could erode Cain's support.

"Oh," exclaimed South Carolina GOP Chairman Chad Connelly said when told details from Bialek's news conference.

Voters in his early primary state, Connelly said, will tune into character questions 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 in South Carolina care about character and if the allegation are proven out, our voters care about moral attitude," Conley said. "Character does matter, despite what the Clinton folks tried to tell us years ago," he said.


Associated Press writers Steve Peoples in New Hampshire and Jim Davenport in South Carolina contributed to this report


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