JUDY WOODRUFF: Herman Cain went before cameras late this afternoon in Phoenix and denied allegations made by a Chicago woman that he made unwanted sexual advances toward her more than a decade ago.
The woman, Sharon Bialek, leveled the accusations yesterday. She was the fourth woman in recent days to allege that Cain had acted inappropriately when he was head of the National Restaurant Association in the late 1990s.
We begin with some excerpts of today’s news conference.
HERMAN CAIN, (R) presidential candidate: With respect to the most recent accusation, I have never acted inappropriately with anyone, period.
I saw Ms. Allred and her client yesterday in that news conference for the very first time. As I sat in my hotel room with a couple of my staff members, as they got to the microphone, my first response in my mind and reaction was, I don’t even know who this woman is.
Secondly, I didn’t recognize the name at all. The time that she referenced was during the time that I was the CEO and president of the National Restaurant Association. It is headquartered in Washington, D.C., where about 150 workers work. And we have about 150 people in Chicago, where she said she worked for our educational foundation.
I tried to remember if I recognized her, and I didn’t. I tried to remember if I remembered that name, and I didn’t. The charges and the accusations, I absolutely reject. They simply didn’t happen. They simply didn’t happen.
We are not going to allow Washington or politics to deny me the opportunity to represent this great nation. And as far as these accusations causing me to back off and maybe withdraw from this presidential primary race, ain’t going to happen, because I’m doing this for the American people and for the children and the grandchildren. And I will not be deterred by false, anonymous, incorrect accusations.
QUESTION: Mr. Cain, now another woman, one of the formerly anonymous women, has come forward who worked with you at the Restaurant Association, Karen Kraushaar. She’s now a spokesperson for the Treasury Department and has come forward publicly.
What do you say to her and — and — or her allegations? This is somebody who is still working in the U.S. government. Are her allegations not true? Is she lying about them?
HERMAN CAIN: Well, to the best of my recollection, since you mentioned that particular name, that is the one that I recall that filed a complaint, but it was found to be baseless.
Let’s separate something. The accusations were made of sexual harassment. They were found baseless. There was no legal settlement.
JUDY WOODRUFF: To help us sort through Cain’s remarks and the impact this story is having on his campaign, we are joined by NewsHour Political Editor David Chalian.
David, so we watched a portion of what Herman Cain said a little while ago. And we are — I do want to ask you about this new — one of the original women who has now become public. She’s gone public with her name, but, first, the Sharon Bialek accusation. She said there were specific things he did wrong. He says it never happened.
Where does it go?
DAVID CHALIAN: Right.
Last night, you remember, we reported on her very specific, detailed accusations. And he says, not only did none of this happen, he claims. He doesn’t even — he says he doesn’t recollect who she is, didn’t recognize her name at all.
So this is a classic he said/she said moment here. And what Herman Cain now has to be very concerned about is that there is no further documentation or evidence or corroboration of Ms. Bialek’s account yesterday. If there is, he’s going to have to be right back before cameras explaining again, because the way he put it today, so completely, that absolutely nothing inappropriate ever happened, opens him up that if something else trickles out, Judy, he’s going to have to answer more questions.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, with this other woman who was one of the original anonymous accusers, she now has given her name, Karen Kraushaar. She works at the Treasury Department.
DAVID CHALIAN: That’s right.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In this instance, he is saying he does remember the instance where he said he compared her height to the height of his wife. So there’s something he’s acknowledging there.
DAVID CHALIAN: Right. This is the incident he went into detail with you about this a week ago, when he was on the NewsHour.
JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s right.
DAVID CHALIAN: And this is the formal complaint that was filed at the National Restaurant Association at the time. It did not end in a legal settlement, but it was an arrangement, as Herman Cain calls it. She did get money of some sort when she left the National Restaurant Association.
But he claims that the Restaurant Association looked into all of her charges and determined that it was baseless. What you will see happen now is that more and more people will — reporters will be looking into this. And there will be calls on Herman Cain to ask the Restaurant Association to release the details of that investigation that he says determined that the Ms. Kraushaar’s claims were baseless.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So what effect is all this having on his candidacy?
DAVID CHALIAN: Two big effects that you have to look at. One, it’s blotting out everything else. This is the Republican nomination race right now. Mitt Romney put out a plan today about trying to deal with the Iran nuclear threat. I don’t think anybody is going to cover that, Judy.
This is the entire story. And he can’t, Herman Cain can’t get his way back on message to what he wants to be talking about, no matter how hard he tries.
But, also, we’re starting to see polling numbers come out that his personal favorability is taking a bit of a hit here. In a new Gallup poll, he had the highest positive intensity score of any candidate a couple weeks ago with 34 points. That is dropping. And if — Gallup separated the numbers to see, how much did it drop before the accusations were made and after? It is dropping precipitously after these accusations have come into the public domain.
So his personal favorability is taking a hit, even though, in terms of level of support, he is still remaining competitive, at the front of the pack with Mitt Romney.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And we will see where they go after today’s news conference.
DAVID CHALIAN: Exactly.
JUDY WOODRUFF: David Chalian, thank you.
DAVID CHALIAN: Sure.