Herman Cain allegations: Is he taking a page from the Clinton playbook?

Herman Cain appears to think he can wait out the current storm over allegations of sexual harassment, just as candidate Bill Clinton did. But Herman Cain is not Bill Clinton.  

Cliff Owen/AP
Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain is surrounded by security and staff as he walks through a hotel lobby in Alexandria, Va., Wednesday.

Amid the sound and fury surrounding Herman Cain, the one element that could blow up his presidential candidacy is missing: an identified victim.

One of the unnamed women who accused Mr. Cain of sexual harassment has stated, through her lawyer, that she does not want to come out publicly, after all. The other woman who filed a complaint alleging inappropriate behavior by Cain during his time as head of the National Restaurant Association has also remained anonymous. A third former employee says she considered taking formal action against Cain, but opted not to, according to the Associated Press.

In the case of the first woman, lawyer Joel Bennett told The New York Times that his client wants to release a statement asserting that her version of events is different from Cain’s, while not violating her confidentiality agreement with the restaurant group.

Without a name and a face, the allegations remain anonymous – and thus it may be that Cain believes he can ride out the storm and let GOP voters decide if he should be their presidential nominee, political analysts say. His campaign says that since Sunday, when the harassment story broke on Politico.com, fundraising has soared – a sign, the campaign says, that his supporters are sticking by him.  

Even if one of the accusers steps forward publicly, Cain may well believe he can withstand the firestorm. After all, former Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton withstood multiple, named allegations of sexual misconduct and became president. He also survived impeachment and finished his second term, despite the Lewinsky sex scandal.

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“Politicians are always the last to know that they have been irretrievably damaged,” says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He argues that Cain was never going to be the nominee in any case, but the harassment allegations have made that possibility even more remote.

Mr. Jillson also doesn’t think that Cain will be able to maintain his support over the long haul. “The first reaction of Republican social conservatives in general is that ‘this is unproven, they’re after our guy, so we’ll suspend judgment,’ ” Jillson says. “But I think that erodes. The facts will out at some point. These things never go away.”

If Cain is looking to former President Clinton as a model for how to survive sexual allegations, the more relevant model would be Clinton the candidate. But even there, Cain is no Clinton. The former president had a career in elective office before running for president. Cain has none. Clinton also had a fully organized campaign in place by the time Gennifer Flowers stepped forward with allegations of a long-running affair with then-Governor Clinton.

Cain barely has a campaign apparatus, and has campaigned infrequently in the early primary and caucus states. His response to the sexual harassment story has been disorganized and ever-changing, even though he had 10 days’ advance warning it was in the works. Cain’s appeal to some Republican voters is precisely the fact that he is a nonpolitician and an outsider. He calls himself an “unconventional candidate running an unconventional campaign.”

Speaking to Bill O’Reilly on Fox News Wednesday night, former Clinton adviser Dick Morris, a Cain supporter and one-time sex scandal subject himself, urged the former pizza magnate to hang on and keep fighting. He suggested the firestorm could last a week or two, but eventually the media and the public will lose interest.

The problem for Cain is that the stories keep coming. On Wednesday, his campaign manager, Mark Block, blamed the rival campaign of Texas Gov. Rick Perry for leaking the story to Politico. The Cain campaign blames Perry adviser Curt Anderson, who advised Cain’s unsuccessful run for the Senate in 2004. Cain says he told Mr. Anderson about the sexual-harassment charges from his days at the restaurant association, but Anderson says he had no prior knowledge of the situation.  

"I didn’t know anything about this, and so it’s hard to leak something that you didn’t know anything about,” Anderson said on CNN Thursday morning.

Perry has denied that anyone in his campaign was involved in leaking the accusations.

Earlier, Cain had blamed the liberal media for going after him, in addition to the GOP establishment.

Cain also faces pressure from Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former Republican National Committee chairman, to “get the facts out” by getting out of the confidentiality agreement with the restaurant association and allowing it to put forth the allegations. Governor Barbour is a major voice in the party and neutral in the GOP nomination race.

On Thursday, Cain launched a seven-day drive to raise $999,000 to fund his effort to win the Iowa caucuses, the first nominating contest, on Jan. 3. For now, Cain’s poll numbers are holding up. On Wednesday, Rasmussen Reports released the first nationwide poll of GOP voters taken since the sexual harassment allegations erupted, and found Cain still in first place 26 percent, followed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney with 23 percent. The last Rasmusen poll, taken Oct. 12, showed Cain and Mr. Romney tied with 29 percent each.

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