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Herman Cain says allegations of sexual harassment are ‘baseless’

Herman Cain is getting grilled today about new revelations that two former employees at the National Restaurant Association accepted cash settlements in return for signing non-disclosure agreements after leveling sexual harassment charges (claiming inappropriate physical gestures as well as verbal exchanges) at Mr. Cain.

How Cain addresses all this today will be critical.

He told Fox News this morning:

“I have never sexually harassed anyone. Secondly, and yes, I was falsely accused while I was at the National Restaurant Association. I say falsely because after this investigation, it turned out to be baseless.”

Asked if he had ever had to pay someone as a result of a sexual harassment claim, Cain said:

“Outside of the Restaurant Association, absolutely not. If the Restaurant Association did a settlement, I wasn’t even aware of it and I hope it wasn’t for much because nothing happened. If it was handled, it would have been handled by some of the other offices that worked for me.”

Finally, Cain was asked if there will be more allegations of this kind.

“Absolutely not. If more allegations come, other people will simply make them up.”

At the National Press Club, moments ago, Cain said:

He doesn’t “think this sexual harassment thing is going to have legs,” reports USA TODAY. “First, it’s not true and second we’re not going to chase two anonymous sources,” Cain said before addressing the National Press Club.

In the meantime, DCDecoder offer a few thoughts.

In a nutshell: While it’s unclear exactly where all this is heading, and many details have yet to emerge, we think this could seriously damage Cain’s campaign.

Yes, Cain has so far appeared almost totally impervious to gaffes (on issues ranging from abortion to foreign policy) that probably would have sunk any other candidate. But these accusations, reported by Politico, are of an entirely different nature – ugly and personal – and they hit directly at Cain’s primary source of strength: his likability.

As Gallup reported last week, Cain has been wiping the floor with his opponents when it comes to favorability ratings: Nearly three-quarters of Republicans view Cain favorably, and only 16 percent view him unfavorably. In a recent focus group of GOP voters, Cain was viewed as the most likable candidate by far: voters saw him as a “good neighbor,” a hardworking businessman, and a people person.

All this could change as details of this scandal continue to trickle out.

This is also one of those cases where Cain’s biggest weakness – his inexperience as a candidate, and the lack of a professional campaign and PR operation – may make things worse.

When reporters for Politico asked Cain directly yesterday: “Have you ever been accused, sir, in your life of harassment by a woman?” Cain at first was silent, and then finally responded: “Have you ever been accused of sexual harassment?”

Needless to say, not a good answer.

Today, the campaign is flat-out denying that Cain ever sexually harassed anyone. On MSNBC this morning, Cain’s chief of staff Mark Block (of the infamous “smoking” ad) said: “Herman Cain has never sexually harassed anybody. Period. End of story.”

But the campaign is NOT denying that Cain was ever accused of sexual harassment, or that cash payouts were made. Here’s Block again: “I am not personally aware of any cash settlement relating to sexual harassment charges to Mr. Cain…. I would suggest that you contact the National Restaurant Association and ask them about any settlement.”

Tellingly, the campaign is trying to reframe the accusations – and reinforce Cain’s outsider status – by arguing in a statement that the whole thing is a liberal media smear:

“Fearing the message of Herman Cain who is shaking up the political landscape in Washington, Inside the Beltway media have begun to launch unsubstantiated personal attacks on Cain. 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.”

One thing the campaign may have going for it in all this: the accusations have so far been anonymous – and since these women allegedly signed non-disclosure agreements, they may be unable to comment on the matter going forward. That’s made the reporting seem, as the Cain campaign charges, more “thinly sourced.”

But more is certain to come out in the days to come.

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