Herman Cain: Will his press conference help?
Herman Cain is on the defensive after being accused this past week of sexually harassing four women. His press conference Tuesday could help clear the air – or it could make things worse.
When GOP presidential contender Herman Cain faces off with journalists later this afternoon, will the jousting help him weather the political storm that has put his long-shot candidacy in jeopardy?Skip to next paragraph
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The Scottsdale, Ariz., press conference is Mr. Cain's first session with reporters since allegations that he made sexual advances toward women during his time as chief of the National Restaurant Association first surfaced on Oct. 31.
In the past, some politicians have fallen prey to the ‘he said, she said’ nature of this type of conversation and the subsequent firestorm that develops. Think Gary Hart, John Edwards, Anthony Weiner. But others – Bill Clinton, Arnold Schwarzenegger – have still gained office with their reputations intact. Relatively speaking.
The question with Cain is whether the same rules apply. He’s not a known quantity, and the Republican primary electorate, so far dissatisfied with other candidates seeking the nomination, have been smitten of late with the brash businessman, giving him front-runner status in several national polls.
Yet several political analysts suggest that this afternoon's interrogation could be a crucial moment in Cain's campaign, particularly when it comes to persuading women voters – so central to success in presidential campaigns – that he is worthy of the post.
“This press conference is long overdue,” says David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. “It needs to be a long, take-all-questions session that seeks to burn out this story. Try to get reporters to deal with it once and then move on to something else.”
Professor Yepsen says Cain’s dodginess on what transpired – he has denied any wrongdoing but appeared inconsistent on the details – has necessitated the meeting with reporters. It’s a risky move, he says, but similar to Democratic vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro’s decision in 1984 to address brewing questions about her husband’s business dealings.
“The press conference is a defining moment for [Cain] to clear the air,” Yepsen says. “If he handles it well, it could actually help him. Do poorly, and it will continue to hurt.”
Reports of inappropriate behavior with four women have emerged during the last week, but only one individual – Chicagoan Sharon Bialek – has offered a public statement. Until the appearance of Ms. Bialek, who is making the talk-show rounds today, Cain’s campaign failed to provide clear responses to the reports, seeming to hope the matter would fizzle without a clear explanation from the candidate.