GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, in a press conference Tuesday, categorically denied all the charges of sexual harassment that have emerged in the past week.
“I have never acted inappropriately with anyone, period,” Mr. Cain said several times. “And these accusations that were revealed yesterday simply didn’t happen.”
The accusations Monday – which caused Cain to call the press conference to respond – came from Sharon Bialek, the first of four accusers to go public with her allegations. Less than an hour before the press conference Tuesday, a second Herman Cain accuser, Karen Kraushaar, also went public.
Ms. Bialek, a Chicagoan who worked for the National Restaurant Association in the mid-1990s, said Monday that during a meeting with Cain when she was looking for guidance on a new job, Cain groped her.
Not only are those charges untrue, Cain said Tuesday, but he doesn’t recall ever meeting Bialek, whom he called a “troubled woman.”
“I didn’t recognize the face. I didn’t recognize the name, nor the voice,” said Cain of Bialek.
Recent polling has suggested that the women’s accusations – especially when the accusations are attached to a name and a face – are beginning to take a toll on Cain’s support.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll of registered Republicans, taken online Monday and Tuesday, found that 40 percent had a less favorable view of Cain after seeing the video of Bialek’s press conference and that 39 percent believed her charges.
Still, while most pundits agreed that Cain’s press conference was necessary – and overdue – it seems unlikely to put an end to the media firestorm. In many ways, say some, it’s an impossible situation for the candidate.
“If nothing happened, all he can say is, ‘nothing happened,’ ” says Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College in southern California. “And if something did happen, he’s in trouble…. It’s extremely difficult to prove a negative.”
The big risk for Cain, Professor Pitney adds, is if more women come forward – a possibility even Cain suggested was likely in the conference.
“There will probably be others – not because I am aware of any, but because the machine to keep a businessman out of the White House is going to be relentless,” Cain said. “If they continue to come, I will continue to respond.”
Although a second accuser went public shortly before Tuesday’s conference, she has yet to decide whether she’ll detail her account of the harassment.
In an interview with The New York Times, Ms. Kraushaar, now a spokeswoman for the Treasury Department, acknowledged that she was one of two women who settled sexual harassment claims against Cain with the National Restaurant Association back in the 1990s.
While she didn’t give any details, she told the Times that she was thinking about the “idea of a joint press conference where all of the women would be together with our attorneys and all of this evidence would be considered together.” Then, “these allegations can be considered together as a body of evidence.”
When asked about Kraushaar’s accusation in the press conference, Cain acknowledged that he did recall her claim, but insisted it was baseless.
“There was no legal settlement. There was an agreement between that lady and the National Restaurant Association, and it was treated as a personnel matter because there was no basis to her accusations,” he said.
When pressed on the details of the case, he said the only thing he remembered was that she had been bothered by a hand gesture he made in comparing her height to that of his wife’s (while holding his hand up around his chin). He said the incident occurred in his office with the door open.
Kraushaar’s lawyer has said that his client complained of multiple incidents over multiple days.
Cain’s lawyer, Lin Wood, began the press conference with an impassioned plea to “afford [Cain] fairness.” Cain then followed with vehement, if sometimes rambling, statements, in which he often referred to himself in the third person. He didn’t appear with his wife or family, though he referred to them and their support, and he stated that when he spoke to his wife after Bialek’s press conference Monday, his wife replied, “I’ve known you for 46 years and … that doesn’t even sound like anything that you would ever do to anyone.”
Cain also alluded to a “Democratic machine” behind the allegations, and he called into question the character of Bialek. His campaign has been trying to discredit her since Monday, with reports of her financial troubles and history of bringing lawsuits.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, other GOP candidates began to call for more explanations.
In an ABC interview, fellow GOP candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney called Bialek’s allegations “particularly disturbing” and said, “They’re going to have to be addressed seriously.”
On Wednesday night, the Republican candidates will appear together in a debate in Michigan – the first debate since the allegations against Cain broke.