Two weeks ago it seemed that Herman Cain was poised to become the Mike Huckabee of the 2012 presidential election. In 2008, Huckabee was a political outsider with little money. His homespun humor combined with his sharp wit and conservative message to make him the surprise winner of the Iowa Republican presidential primary. Before last week, Georgia native Herman Cain may have been positioned to make a similar impact in 2012.
That was before accusations were leveled that Cain had sexually harassed female employees fifteen years ago. At this point, a total of four women have accused Cain of harassment, but only two have stepped forward publicly. Karen Kraushaar worked with Cain at the National Restaurant Association and received a $45,000 payout from the group according to Yahoo News. (In contrast, Bill Clinton paid $850,000 to Paula Jones according to according to LegalZoom.com.) Although she has not said exactly what Cain allegedly did, she described him as “a monster” to ABC News.
Sharon Bialek, another NRA employee, is the other woman to come forward publicly. Bialek claims that Cain put his hand under her skirt and pushed her hand toward his crotch according to the Washington Post. The incident allegedly occurred at a meeting after Bialek had left the association.
Another woman who worked with USAID in Egypt said that she and colleague had dinner with Herman Cain after he addressed their seminar. In an ABC News video she said that Cain had initially asked to meet a woman that had asked a question during his address. She said that this may have been an innocent request. In the end, Cain had a “nondescript” dinner with the two USAID employees. Her only notable recollection of the event was that Cain allegedly ordered two expensive bottles of wine and stuck the women with the tab.
In a press conference on Tuesday and in a statement on CainTruth.com, Cain categorically denied the allegations. Cain denied harassing Krausharr and said that the only incident that he remembers involving her was comparing her height to that of his wife. He said that he does not remember Bialek at all.
On Wednesday, new information was revealed about both accusers. The Associated Press reported that Krausharr filed a complaint three years later against a subsequent employer when she was not allowed to work at home. Bialek apparently has a history of financial trouble including bankruptcy filings, unpaid rent, and a paternity suit. Television personality Bill Kurtis, who worked with Bialek, has alleged on WLS radio, which was then picked up by the Mark Levine Show, that she “has a history” and might have actually been the one to come on to Cain.
Ultimately, it might not matter whether the accusations are true or not. The damage has been done to Cain’s reputation and no one will ever know the truth of what actually happened. Many will assume Cain to be guilty and others will never doubt his innocence. To many others, the whole matter will simply be a joke (for instance, Cain’s “6-9″ plan).
It is difficult to imagine how Cain cannot be negatively affected by the scandal in the polls. According to Real Clear Politics, Cain remains neck in neck with Mitt Romney in national polls of Republican candidates. Cain has an edge on Romney in polls from the battleground states of Florida and Ohio, as well as the early primary state of Iowa, where Mike Huckabee won in 2008. Cain’s poll numbers are likely to suffer as he is unable to shake the accusations.
As troubling as the accusations themselves was Cain’s lackluster early response. In spite of being contacted before the accusations went public by Politico, the website that initially broke the story, the Cain campaign seemed unprepared to deal with them. Cain’s initial response was evasive, denying knowledge of the accusations or settlements, which only added fuel to the fire.
The scandal also comes in the wake of other Cain missteps. Over the summer, Cain lost key campaign staffers in Iowa and New Hampshire, two vitally important early primary states. Cain has been criticized for several comments, including a joke that an electric fence should be placed along the border and told the Wall Street Journal that if people were not wealthy, they could blame themselves. He was also forced to backtrack and apologize after saying that he would not hire a Muslim in his administration.
More worrisome to some is Cain’s lack of experience on foreign policy. While he does have experience leading businesses, Cain has even less international experience than President Obama did before taking office. With international crises looming in the form of Iran’s nuclear program, radical Islamists co-opting the Arab Spring, a financial crisis in Europe, a resurgent Russia, and a China that is increasingly threatening both economically and militarily, the paucity of foreign policy experience is an important omission.
In spite of his popularity over the past few weeks, Cain’s campaign was beginning to fizzle. The sexual harassment scandal, whether true or not, has only accelerated that process.