Herman Cain, a businessman whose rise to the top of the Republican presidential polls has stunned the U.S. political establishment, was on the defensive Monday after a report he had faced sexual harassment accusations in the 1990s.
Cain planned to make several scheduled appearances in Washington on Monday following the report that alleges he was twice accused of sexual harassment while he was the head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s.
In a statement to The Associated Press on Sunday, his campaign disputed a report on the website Politico that said Cain had been accused of sexually suggestive behavior toward at least two female employees.
Cain — a self-styled outsider relatively new to the national stage — is facing a new level of scrutiny after a burst of momentum in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. He's been steadily at or near the top of national surveys and polls in early presidential nominating states, competitive with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
The report said the women signed agreements with the restaurant group that gave them five-figure financial payouts to leave the association and barred them from discussing their departures. Neither woman was identified.
The report was based on anonymous sources and, in one case, what the publication said was a review of documentation that described the allegations and the resolution.
Cain's campaign told the AP that the allegations were not true, and amounted to unfair attacks.
"Inside-the-Beltway media have begun to launch unsubstantiated personal attacks on Cain," spokesman J.D. Gordon said in a written statement. "Dredging up thinly sourced allegations stemming from Mr. Cain's tenure as the Chief Executive Officer at the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, political trade press are now casting aspersions on his character and spreading rumors that never stood up to the facts."
Asked if Cain's campaign was denying the report, Gordon said, "Yes."
"These are baseless allegations," Gordon said in a second interview later Sunday evening. "To my knowledge, this is not an accurate story."
Cain plans to continue with several planned appearances in Washington on Monday. He is slated to discuss his tax plan at the American Enterprise Institute, appear at the National Press Club and hold a healthcare briefing on Capitol Hill.
The former pizza company executive has been pointing to his long record in business to argue that he has the credentials needed to be president during a time of economic strife.
"I am not going to comment on that," he told Politico when asked specifically about one of the woman's claims.
When asked if he had ever been accused of harassment by a woman, he responded, Politico said, by asking the reporter, "Have you ever been accused of sexual harassment?"
A message seeking comment from Peter Kilgore, listed on the National Restaurant Association website as its chief legal counsel, was not immediately returned.