Herman Cain tries to put sexual harassment episode behind him

In a two-man debate Saturday night before a tea party crowd, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich will discuss entitlement programs. Any questions about sexual harassment are strictly forbidden.

Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP
Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain speaks at Americans For Prosperity's "Defending the American Dream Summit," Friday, Nov. 4, in Washington.

Herman Cain is doing his best to put the week-long sexual harassment episode behind him. Still, the GOP presidential front-runner (in some polls) is having a hard time turning the focus of attention to his campaign message.

Saturday night, at least, he’ll get some respite from the allegations that he behaved inappropriately with three female employees when he was a Washington lobbyist heading the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s.

Appearing before the Texas Tea Party Patriots, Cain and Newt Gingrich will engage in what’s being billed as a modified Lincoln-Douglas-style debate about Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

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"The focus of this event is not about gossip," Julie Turner, president of Texas Tea Party Patriots PAC told Yahoo News. "It's going to be about entitlement reform."

The event also should give Cain the chance to show that he can discuss major policy issues in full and correct detail, something he’s had trouble doing.

"They'll have extensive time to debate back and forth on the merits of each others' plans," Turner said. "No more talking points. It's going to be far deeper.” C-SPAN is broadcasting the two-man debate.

Meanwhile, Cain pulled back from what would have been another closely-watched media event: the scheduled appearance of his wife Gloria Cain on Fox News' "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren" Friday.

Even in the friendly atmosphere of Fox, Mrs. Cain – described by her husband as “an absolute gem … 200 percent supportive of me for 43 years” – no doubt would have been questioned about the sexual harassment allegations against Cain. (Not to mention her record of voting for some Democrats, including Barack Obama.)

“The conventional wisdom in crisis management is to keep your mouth shut until you get all the facts and know what the truth is, then come out with one story that you repeat incessantly and that doesn’t change,” Republican pollster Whit Ayers told Michelle Cottle of The Daily Beast. “The Cain story has changed not just daily but almost hourly.”

One wonders if Cain appreciates the comments of some of his supporters in the media.

Speaking of Democrats, conservative writer Ann Coulter has suggested that "our blacks are so much better than their blacks" – which could be taken as stereotyping.

Rush Limbaugh said “shame on you” to Republicans who "piled on Herman Cain when nobody knew the facts" about the sexual harassment allegations.

In fact, most Republicans apparently have dismissed the allegations as a partisan attack on one of their leading presidential candidates.

"People are so much more focused on the economy," Iowa Republican Jason McKibben told the Associated Press. "They're tired of gutter politics."

Still, there was this comment from Republican Iowa state Rep. Henry Rayhons: “He's got to come clean, or people are going to keep harassing him about it. The longer it hangs out there, the less likely I am to support him."

As information keeps dribbling out – the lawyer for one woman said Friday there had been a “series of inappropriate behaviors and unwanted advances” by Cain, not a single misconstrued gesture as Cain has implied – other areas of his campaign are coming under scrutiny as well.

The consumer group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics has asked the Federal Election Commission to investigate press reports alleging that some $40,000 in illegal contributions were made to Cain's campaign by outside political groups.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported this week that Prosperity USA had paid for travel for Cain in Iowa, the purchase of iPads, and other expenses.

Prosperity USA is connected to the national tea party-aligned group Americans for Prosperity, whose major financial backers are billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch.

Meeting with Americans for Prosperity activists in Washington Friday, Cain said, "I'm proud to know the Koch Brothers.”

"I am the Koch Brothers' brother from another mother,” he joked.

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