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Cain Denies Allegations of Sexual Harassment

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain answers questions at the National Press Club in Washington, October 31, 2011.

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain answers questions at the National Press Club in Washington, October 31, 2011.

In U.S. politics, Republican presidential contender Herman Cain says he was falsely accused of sexually harassing two women in the 1990’s. Cain’s rise to the top of the Republican presidential field has been the biggest surprise so far in the early stages of the 2012 U.S. presidential race, but the question is, will it last?

Cain got his moment in the Washington spotlight with a speech at the National Press Club. He found himself on the defensive most of the day, however, following the report that two women had accused him of sexual harassment during his time as head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990’s.

“I have never sexually harassed anyone. Number two, while at the restaurant association I was accused of sexual harassment. Falsely accused, I might add. It was concluded after a thorough investigation that it had no basis,” said Cain.

Politico said the two unidentified women in question were given large financial settlements in exchange for leaving the association and agreeing not to discuss the matter. Cain said he was not aware of that.

The distraction comes at a critical moment for Cain’s presidential campaign, which has surged in recent weeks. The former Georgia businessman is at or near the top in national polls, and holds a narrow lead in the latest poll in Iowa, the state that begins the Republican nomination process on January 3, 2012.

Cain was asked about the reasons for his meteoric political rise Sunday on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”

“They are genuinely enthused about what I am saying and how I am saying it. Americans want to feel proud again and they do not feel that pride right now.”

Cain is a conservative African-American businessman whose only previous foray into politics ended in a failed bid for a U.S. Senate seat in Georgia.

But Cain’s affable demeanor and blunt-spoken style are winning over converts among conservative Republican voters, who play a pivotal role in selecting Republican presidential nominees, especially in early-voting states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Cain also has generated political buzz with some unorthodox campaign ads including one in which his campaign manager blows cigarette smoke at the camera, followed by a shot of the candidate breaking into a slow grin.

Ron Brownstein, who analyzes U.S. politics for the National Journal, said, “What he is saying in these somewhat odd videos is that he is something different and there is an audience that is responding to that.”

Quinnipiac University pollster Peter Brown said Cain is building support among one of the most active Republican voting groups, Tea Party activists pressing for a smaller central government and a fresh approach to leadership.

“Herman Cain has had a very good month. Mr. Cain’s support seems to be strongly from people who consider themselves members of and supporters of the Tea Party movement,” said Brown.

Brown and other analysts say Cain’s main challenge now is to build on his political momentum with strong performances in some of the early primary states. But that task is complicated by the fact that Cain has struggled to raise money and has little campaign organization in place in early voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire.

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.