Cain scandal deepens as 3rd woman comes forward

The furor surrounding the candidacy of Herman Cain, a surprise leader in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, has grown deeper after a third woman came forward to lodge sexual harassment allegations against the novice politician and former pizza chain executive.
The woman's account, told to The Associated Press, came as Cain tried unsuccessfully to divert attention from the controversy, responding testily to reporters who had pressed him about the original accusations.
The scandal has jolted the contest for the Republican presidential nomination. Cain has upended the nominating contest, climbing to the top of opinion polls in the contest to select a challenger to Democratic President Barack Obama in 2012.
Cain appeals to some conservatives because he is a political outsider at a time of anti-Washington sentiment. Obama, while improving in the polls, is vulnerable next year because of the weak U.S. economy and unemployment stuck above 9 percent.
But the allegations against Cain when he was head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s could threaten his standing near the front of the Republican field, which is just two months away from thinning out after early January contests in the traditional leadoff states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
The woman who came forward Wednesday said he made sexually suggestive remarks or gestures about the same time that two co-workers at the National Restaurant Association had settled separate harassment complaints against Cain.
She described in conversations with the AP situations in which she said Cain told her that he had confided to colleagues how attractive she was and invited her to his corporate apartment outside work.
She said she did not file a formal complaint against Cain because she began having fewer interactions with him and because her co-workers had already come forward.
The woman spoke only on condition of anonymity, saying she feared losing her current job and the possibility of damage to her reputation. The AP confirmed that she worked at the restaurant association with Cain during the period in question, that she has no party affiliation in her voter registration in the past decade and is not identified as a donor in federal campaigns or local political campaigns. Records show she was registered as a Democrat at one point previously.
Asked for comment about the accusations, including the most recent, Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon said, "Mr. Cain has said over the past two days at public events that we could see other baseless allegations made against him as this appalling smear campaign continues."
Gordon added, "He has never acted in the way alleged by inside-the-Beltway media, and his distinguished record over 40 years spent climbing the corporate ladder speaks for itself."
Cain's campaign decried the allegations were a "smear campaign" aimed to take him down as he is riding high in opinion polls. The Cain operation accused rival Rick Perry's operation of being behind the original stories.
Perry's campaign denied any involvement _ and suggested the campaign of yet another candidate, Mitt Romney, might be a source. Romney's campaign said that wasn't true.
Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus chimed in Thursday on the Cain-Perry spat, saying he doesn't know "what's true and what's not" about the crossfire between the two campaigns.
But Priebus also told NBC"s "Today" show that he thought the Cain controversy would be fleeting. He also said he didn't believe it would hurt the Republican Party's chances of defeating Obama.
The candidates are scrambling to win endorsements from lawmakers who are influential in their home districts. Romney leads with 33 current members of Congress. Perry, the Texas governor who declared his candidacy only two months ago, has chalked up at least 14, according to both campaigns.
Cain has only a fledgling campaign presence after his meteoric rise in the polls in recent weeks, but was in Washington on Wednesday working to build a following. Other candidates with backgrounds as lawmakers themselves have tiny corps of supporters.
In Washington, Cain dodged reporters' questions Wednesday as he tried unsuccessfully to divert attention from the scandal.
Confronted by reporters after he left a speech to health care professionals in Virginia, Cain told them "don't even bother" asking about the scandal.
The two women whose cases were first reported are barred from publicly giving their accounts by confidentiality agreements they signed in exchange for financial settlements from the trade group. On Wednesday, Cain was under pressure to ask the group to release the women from those agreements.
AP writers Jack Gillum, Stephen Ohlemacher, Kasie Hunt and Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.