Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain holds a virtual tie with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in a national survey of Republicans conducted amid reports of sexual harassment complaints Cain faced as head of a Washington trade group in the 1990s.
Romney found support among 24 percent of Republicans in the Washington Post-ABC News poll, compared with 23 percent for Cain. The poll, with a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points, was taken Oct. 31 through Nov. 3, after Politico reported allegations of two women who worked at the National Restaurant Association when Cain was chief executive officer.
“This initial show of support for Herman Cain isn’t likely to stand over time,” Tom Fiedler, dean of Boston University’s College of Communication, said in an e-mailed statement.
“The instinctive reaction by supporters of any candidate who finds himself facing an attack of this nature is to ‘circle the wagons’ against attackers and stand fast,” he said. “This is to ward off a sense of buyer’s remorse -- that admission of having made a mistake in choosing that particular candidate.”
The survey was taken during a week in which Cain, saying he was falsely accused, at first said he had no knowledge of any settlement made with the women. Later, he allowed that one of the women had been paid a few months of salary in severance. He said he considered it an “agreement,” not a settlement.
Former employees say the organization paid one female staffer a year’s salary -- $35,000 -- in severance after she complained about Cain’s behavior. The second woman, now a spokeswoman for a federal agency in Washington, received $45,000, according to a report yesterday by Politico.
Seven of 10 Republicans surveyed in the poll said the controversy surrounding Cain made no difference in their choice of a candidate.
Today, Cain and Romney each addressed a Washington, D.C., conference of Americans for Prosperity, a political advocacy group co-founded and financed by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, who control Koch Industries and have financed ads to help elect Republicans.
The New York Times reported today that Cain campaign manager Mark Block led the group’s chapter in Wisconsin and Cain was hired in 2005 to lead its “Prosperity Expansion Project.” Cain told his audience the Times made it sound as if he and the Koch brothers go fishing together.
‘Koch Brothers’ Brother’
“I’m very proud to know the Koch brothers,” Cain said. “I am the Koch brothers’ brother from another mother. I’m their brother from another mother, and proud of it.”
Cain, 65, has continued to blame Texas Governor Rick Perry’s campaign for reviving the sexual harassment allegations, even after one of the businessman’s top aides said he accepted a Perry strategist’s denial.
“Let’s just say, there aren’t enough breadcrumbs that we can lay down that leads us anywhere else at this point,” Cain said yesterday when asked on Sean Hannity’s radio show if he thought Perry’s campaign peddled the allegations to reporters.
Perry Denies Role
Perry, in an interview on CNN yesterday, said his campaign had nothing to do with the leak. If that wasn’t the case, he said, any employee involved would be “out the door.”
Earlier, Cain manager Block said on Fox News that he accepted the denial of Perry strategist Curt Anderson, whom Cain previously accused of leaking the story.
“All the evidence we had pointed to Mr. Anderson being the source,” Block said on Fox News. “We are absolutely thrilled that he came on your show, said it wasn’t him. Mr. Cain has always had the utmost respect for him.”
During a campaign stop today in Tilton, New Hampshire, Anita Perry, the governor’s wife, addressed Cain’s charges that the Perry camp leaked the allegations.
“It makes me sad with the finger-pointing,” she said. “That’s not the point of this race.”
Cain’s personal life has come under scrutiny as he has emerged as a top-tier contender for the 2012 Republican nomination, with some surveys placing him even with or ahead of Romney in the race.
The allegations date to Cain’s 1996-99 tenure as CEO of the National Restaurant Association. Financial settlements were reached with two women who made the claims, and the agreements included confidentiality restrictions.
Woman’s Statement Sought
Joel Bennett, a Washington-based lawyer for one of the accusers, said he sent a request yesterday to the restaurant association’s lawyer to free his client from the agreement.
If the association agrees, Bennett plans a public statement on behalf of his client, who would remain anonymous.
“She’s a private person and she wants to move on with her life,” he said. “She has no desire to be a public figure.”
Sue Hensley, senior vice president for public affairs at the organization, said it would respond to the request today.
Cain told Hannity that Bennett is trying to profit from the situation. “He’s out there trying to stir up some stuff because he’s out there trying to get famous and make some money,” Cain said.
A Republican pollster who worked for the restaurant association said earlier this week that Cain had sexually harassed a low-level staffer, whom he described as about two years out of college, at a restaurant in Arlington, Virginia.
“Everybody was aware of it,” Chris Wilson, a principal of an Oklahoma-based political consulting firm that is working for a group supporting the Perry campaign, said in an interview with KTOK radio in Oklahoma City. “So many people were aware of her situation, the fact she left. Everybody knew with the campaign that this would eventually come up.”
Wilson declined to offer further details to Bloomberg News about the incident, though he did say he didn’t leak the story to the media.
Cain, in his Hannity interview, denied Wilson’s harassment claim. “For him to say stuff like that, there again, where’s the documentation?” Cain said. “Where’s the proof? They don’t have any.”
Cain has offered conflicting answers to questions about the allegations. In a speech at the National Press Club on Oct. 31, he said he was unaware of any financial settlement of sexual harassment claims against him. On Nov. 1, Cain told CNN that the association paid a woman “somewhere in the vicinity of three to six months’ pay” after she complained about him.
“I don’t pay women compliments, unless I know them well enough that they’re not going to take it the wrong way,” Cain said on the Hannity program. “I didn’t say that she looked hot or whatever this sort of thing.”
Perry, campaigning in Iowa yesterday, declined to answer a question on whether Cain owed him an apology over the harassment issue. As he met employees at Pioneer Hi-Bred, a unit of DuPont Co., in Johnston, Iowa, he focused on his own campaign message.
“Are you better off today than you were four trillion dollars ago?” Perry said, a reference for federal spending that he has vowed to cut.
The company is the world’s leading developer and supplier of advanced plant genetics and provides seeds to farmers in more than 90 countries. It employs about 3,200 in Iowa.
Perry, 61, running television and radio ads in Iowa, is trying to gain ground in a state crucial his candidacy.
An Iowa Poll, conducted by the Des Moines Register and released Oct. 29, showed Perry with the support of 7 percent of likely participants in the state Jan. 3 caucuses, which start the nomination process. Perry was tied in the survey for fifth place with former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia.
Romney and Cain were in a statistical tie for the lead in the poll, which was taken before the reports of sexual harassment complaints surfaced.
Also ahead of Perry in the poll were U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas, at 12 percent, and Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota at 8 percent.
Bachmann, in a speech yesterday at Iowa State University in Ames, called for all Americans to pay at least some federal income taxes. The proposal seeks to contrast her with Perry and Cain, whose tax plans would allow some low-income Americans to continue to pay no federal taxes.
Romney appears to be increasing his campaign presence in Iowa, after spending most of this year signaling a less-than-all-out effort to win the caucuses.
He is scheduled to make two campaign stops next week in eastern Iowa, less than three weeks after he was last in the state. It will be Romney’s fourth visit to Iowa this year.