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Cain accuser stands by allegation; he ducks issue

 Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain speaks at the Defending the American Dream Summit, Friday, Nov. 4, 2011, in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz...
 Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain speaks at the Defending the American Dream Summit, Friday, Nov. 4, 2011, in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz...
 Joel Bennett, an attorney for a woman who accused Herman Cain of sexual harassment while both worked at the National Restaurant Association, speaks d...
 Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain gestures as he walks toward the podium to speak at the Defending the American Dream Summit, Friday, Nov...

Cain 2012

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain speaks at the Defending the American Dream Summit, Friday, Nov. 4, 2011, in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz...

APTOPIX Cain 2012

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain speaks at the Defending the American Dream Summit, Friday, Nov. 4, 2011, in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz...

Cain Accuser

Joel Bennett, an attorney for a woman who accused Herman Cain of sexual harassment while both worked at the National Restaurant Association, speaks d...

Cain 2012

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain gestures as he walks toward the podium to speak at the Defending the American Dream Summit, Friday, Nov...

Republican presidential contender Herman Cain got upset with reporters Saturday and vowed he would never answer questions about allegations of sexual harassment a decade ago, which have hobbled his unconventional campaign.
Speaking after a one-on-one debate with rival Newt Gingrich on Saturday, Cain cut off reporters who asked about harassment allegations and suggested journalists who wanted answers were behaving unethically.
When one reporter tried to ask a question about the allegations, Cain cut him off. When another asked him if he planned to never address the allegations, he replied "You got it."
Cain says his staff does not want him to respond to the stories and "we are getting back on message, end of story."
Cain is struggling to get past allegations that he sexually harassed several female employees while he headed a restaurant trade group, claims that have dogged his unlikely challenge for the Republican nomination to oppose President Barack Obama.
Cain debated Gingrich, another Republican presidential candidate. Conservative tea party organizers of the event had one off-limit topic _ the sexual harassment allegations.
That would seem to be welcome news to Cain as he tries to refocus on issues such as the future of Social Security retirement benefits and Medicare health care coverage for the elderly _ expected points of discussion with Gingrich.
Gingrich had nothing to gain by raising allegations of improper sexual behavior by one of his rivals. The former House speaker has been divorced twice and married three times, including to his current wife, with whom he had an affair while married to his second wife.
Cain repeatedly has denied ever sexually harassing anyone, and his campaign said it was "looking to put this issue behind us."
Gingrich's advisers said he would not cite the harassment claims against Cain during the debate in The Woodlands, a $200-per-ticket event.
A lawyer for one accuser of Cain said Friday that she had alleged "several incidents of sexual harassment" against the candidate while he served as president of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s.
Cain, a surprise leader in the Republican presidential contest, has denied making suggestive comments to female subordinates at the restaurant trade group. Yet he has given conflicting accounts about what, if anything, he knew about the alleged incidents as well as whether he knew about financial settlements two of his accusers reportedly received from the trade group.
None of the three women has come forward publicly. Two of them had received payments from the group that bar them for discussing the matter, but one of them now is seeking permission to release a statement giving her side of the story.
Lawyer Joel Bennett said Friday that his client accepted a financial settlement as part of an agreement to leave her job at the National Restaurant Association shortly after lodging the complaint. Bennett did not name the woman, whom he said had decided not "to relive the specifics" of the incidents in a public forum.
A new poll indicated that Cain remained in strong position in the Republican Party nomination race despite the disclosures.
Republicans in Iowa and other early voting states seem to be giving Cain the benefit of the doubt for now. But they say they need to know more about the sexual harassment accusations.
"It's concerning, but it's not a big deal," said Cindy Baddeloo of suburban Des Moines. "Nobody's perfect."
She was one of more than two dozen undecided Republican voters who were interviewed in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina since the allegations surfaced last weekend.
"As far as I can see, it wasn't any different than Bill Clinton," said Howard Burrows, a New Hampshire Democrat who said he would consider voting for a Republican. He argued that Cain could survive the episode.
In a statement, the restaurant association said Cain had disputed the woman's allegations at the time she made them more than a decade ago. He was CEO of the organization at the time.
Cain continued to campaign Friday, drawing cheers from conservative activists as he delivered a speech focused on the U.S. economy. He is trying to convert his rise in opinion polls into a campaign organization robust enough to compete with Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and other rivals in early primary and caucus states.
In an appearance before the Americans For Prosperity Foundation, the career businessman pitched an economic program that features rewriting the U.S. tax code and referred only glancingly to the controversy that has overshadowed his campaign in recent days.
"I've been in Washington all week, and I've attracted a little bit of attention," he said, to knowing laughter from the audience.
The controversy surfaced as Cain, a black man in a party that draws its support overwhelmingly from white voters, was rising to the top in public opinion polls. His campaign announced Friday that donations so far this week have totaled $1.6 million, described as a fourfold increase over the average take for an entire month.
Official figures won't be available for weeks, but to judge from Cain's existing campaign organization, it could hardly come at a better time for him.
In Iowa, where caucuses kick off the state-by-state nominating process on Jan. 3, Cain has a modest presence at best. He let more than two months lapse between visits on Aug. 13 and Oct. 22, and aides say they don't expect him to return to the state until Nov. 19.
None of the Iowa Republican activists interviewed at a Republican banquet in Des Moines, where most of Cain's rivals spoke Friday, said the allegations disqualify Cain from their support or that he should quit the race.
"People are so much more focused on the economy," said Des Moines area Republican Jason McKibben. "They're tired of gutter politics."
Nationally, Cain lags several of his rivals in fundraising, based on reports filed through the end of September, the most recent available.
At the time, Perry, the Texas governor, reported cash on hand of $15 million. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor making his second presidential run, reported $14.6 million.
Cain's cash on hand was $1.3 million, and his filing indicated he was more reliant on small donors _ those giving $200 or less _ than either Romney or Perry.
While polls are notoriously fickle, particularly before the first ballots are cast in a presidential race, Cain shot up rapidly in recent weeks, largely at Perry's expense, and his aides were eager to circulate the results of a new Washington Post-ABC survey taken as the sexual harassment controversy was unfolding.
It showed him in a tie for first with Romney, who had 24 percent support to 23 for Cain. Perry had 13.
Seven in 10 Republicans polled said reports of the allegations don't matter when it comes to picking a candidate.
But in a sign of the possible danger ahead, the poll found that Cain slipped to third place among those who see the accusations as serious, and Republican women were significantly more likely than men to say the allegations make them less apt to support the businessman.
The survey found that support for Cain was basically steady over the four nights of interviewing, even as new allegations against him surfaced.
But even before the harassment allegations enveloped his campaign, doubts had arisen about Cain's candidacy.
Cain was sharply critiqued by his rivals over his tax proposal during a debate in Las Vegas last month. There were questions about his loyalty to the Republican base's most enduring litmus test, opposition to abortion, after he said in an interview the decision was a matter of choice.
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Associated Press writers Kasie Hunt and Laurie Kellman in Washington, Tom Beaumont and Phil Elliott in Iowa, Steve Peoples and Holly Ramer in New Hampshire and Jim Davenport in South Carolina contributed to this story.


Updated : 2021-04-12 01:14 GMT+08:00