THE MORNING LINE -- October 31, 2011 at 8:36 AM ET
Cain Faces Scrutiny After Allegations of Sexual Harassment
GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain will face tough questions this week. Photo by Toni Sandys/Pool/Bloomberg via Getty Images.
This was supposed to be the week that Herman Cain took his anti-establishment, gravity-defying, front-running presidential campaign inside the Beltway to win over some street cred without damaging his outsider brand.
It will most certainly not be the week envisioned by the Cain campaign.
Cain is likely to face continued questions regarding a POLITICO story about two women who accused him of sexual harassment in the late 1990s when he was the chief executive officer at the National Restaurant Association.
During Herman Cain's tenure as the head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, at least two female employees complained to colleagues and senior association officials about inappropriate behavior by Cain, ultimately leaving their jobs at the trade group, multiple sources confirm to POLITICO.
The women complained of sexually suggestive behavior by Cain that made them angry and uncomfortable, the sources said, and they signed agreements with the restaurant group that gave them financial payouts to leave the association. The agreements also included language that bars the women from talking about their departures.
In a series of comments over the past 10 days, Cain and his campaign repeatedly declined to respond directly about whether he ever faced allegations of sexual harassment at the restaurant association. They have also declined to address questions about specific reporting confirming that there were financial settlements in two cases in which women leveled complaints.
Cain campaign spokesman J.D. Gordon denied the veracity of the story to the Associated Press but issued a statement falling short of any clear denial of the specific allegations.
"Dredging up thinly sourced allegations stemming from Mr. Cain's tenure as the Chief Executive Officer at the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, political trade press are now casting aspersions on his character and spreading rumors that never stood up to the facts," Gordon said.
"Since Washington establishment critics haven't had much luck in attacking Mr. Cain's ideas to fix a bad economy and create jobs, they are trying to attack him in any way they can," he added.
Asked if Cain's campaign was denying the report, Gordon said, "Yes."
"Breaking News - Bombshell Blast," blared ABC News' George Stephanopoulos in the opening moments of Monday's "Good Morning America."
Monday will mark what may be the most consequential day of the Cain candidacy. If he can successfully put out a series of facts refuting the specific allegations reported in the POLITICO story, it may embolden his supporters and solidify his position in the polls.
The story has been online for nearly 12 hours, and the campaign has yet to deny any of the specific allegations of inappropriate behavior.
Cain is scheduled to attend a policy discussion about his 9-9-9 tax plan at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, DC., Monday morning. He then plans to appear at the National Press Club, where he is expected to take reporters' questions.
Later, Cain will sit down with Judy Woodruff for an interview that will air on Monday evening's PBS NewsHour.
Cain's handling of the intense questioning will go a long way in determining his staying power at the top of the GOP field.
UP IN THE AIR
The Des Moines Register was out Sunday with a poll showing Cain and Mitt Romney at the top of the heap in the Iowa caucus race, but that almost 60 percent of likely caucusgoers say they could be talked into changing their minds.
Cain is on top with 23 percent, Romney at 22 percent and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, is third at 12 percent. The poll was taken from Oct. 23-26 and has a margin of error of +/-4.9 percent.
The Register's Jennifer Jacobs spells out the uncertainty surrounding the race, both nationally and in Iowa:
The fact that 74 percent of likely Iowa Republican caucusgoers currently have no first choice or could be persuaded to switch their first choice demonstrates soft support and a wide-open electorate, said Republican strategist Mary Matalin.
"The dynamic remains Romney vs. non-Romney, with Romney still unable to penetrate his ceiling, and the non-Romney vote still showing no consolidation," Matalin said.
Fellow GOP strategist Murphy said it may seem as if people are switching around a lot, but the truth is, they're just not with anybody yet.
"People are kind of window shopping," Murphy said. "It feels to us in the media this campaign has been going on for a year, but in voter world, this is the second inning at best."
For now, the smoking-hot Cain has punched into front-runner status in Iowa -- despite alarming some conservatives with his comments four days before polling began implying that abortion is a choice best left to families. He has since insisted he opposes abortion, no exceptions.
"I just like him," explained Lynn Borland, 45, a medical transcriptionist from Independence. "He seems to make sense."
Jacobs highlights that Cain is stronger among conservative voters by a 3-to-1 margin, while Romney leads with women, seniors, moderates and voters who aren't sure whom to pick yet. Thirty percent of very conservative voters said they disliked Romney -- the highest number of all the candidates.
The lower tier of candidates is a jumble of single-digit levels of support. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who made a big splash when he jumped into the race in August is at 7 percent in the Register's poll.
One more highlight that helps explain Romney and Cain as front-runners: 71 percent of likely caucusgoers said business experience was important.
PERRY THE DOER
Gov. Perry is attempting to push those poll numbers up with his second introductory television ad in the Iowa.
The entire 30-second spot has Perry straight to camera with upbeat music underscoring his message of job creation and spending cuts in Texas.
Perry also begins the ad with a smiling TelePrompTer jab at President Obama.
"If you're looking for a slick politician or a guy with great TelePrompTer skills, we already have that. And he's destroying our economy," Perry says.
The Romney camp must now decide how long they want to allow Perry to have the Iowa airwaves so that he can portray himself in the best possible light. With Perry at fifth place at 7 percent in the Des Moines Register poll, the Romney campaign probably still has some time to make that decision.
ON THE TRAIL
All events listed in Eastern Time.
President Obama is in Washington. He meets with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair at 10 a.m. and signs an executive order at 12:20 p.m.
Rick Santorum holds seven Iowa meet-and-greets: in Garner at 9 a.m., Northwood at 10:45 a.m., Osage at 12:15 p.m., Cresco at 1:45 p.m., Decorah at 3 p.m., Waukon at 4:30 p.m. and New Hampton at 6:30 p.m.
Herman Cain speaks at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., at 9 a.m. and addresses a luncheon at the National Press Club at 12:30 p.m.
Jon Huntsman tours PSNH Amoskeag Hydroelectric Station and holds an employee town hall in Manchester, N.H., at 3:30 p.m.
All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:
For more political coverage, visit our politics page.
Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.