Cain reconsidering campaign after allegation of 13-year affair
Departure could hurt Romney bid, polling suggests
Herman Cain told his staff yesterday that he was “reassessing’’ whether to remain in the Republican presidential race in the wake of an allegation that he had a 13-year affair with an Atlanta woman.
The reported extramarital affair, which Cain denied, follows a series of sexual harassment accusations against him. His exit from the campaign could allow another candidate such as Newt Gingrich to consolidate Tea Party and conservative support and emerge as the strongest rival to Mitt Romney.
Polls have indicated that Cain voters might lean toward Gingrich in South Carolina and Florida, crucial conservative battlegrounds where the former Godfather’s Pizza executive has substantial support.
Wayne Lesperance, a political scientist at New England College in Henniker, N.H., pointed out that Cain and Gingrich both come from Georgia and recently participated in a Lincoln-Douglas-style debate in Texas that turned into more of a friendly exchange than a clash of rivals.
“This helps Newt Gingrich,’’ Lesperance said. “I would look to see Newt be very gracious and open to trying to court these supporters of Cain and further solidify the momentum he’s had in recent weeks.’’
But Cain is an idiosyncratic candidate with an outsider’s appeal that at one point made him a front-runner in the polls.
As a result, it is not clear whether Gingrich, a former House speaker with strong ties to Washington, would appeal to Cain supporters. Republicans point out that the race has been volatile, and Cain backers have been drawn to his charisma and fire - qualities not commonly associated with Gingrich.
“Herman Cain is not a traditional candidate because he is not a politician per se and, for that reason, I think it would be difficult to ascertain where his votes would go or if his supporters would simply not vote for anybody,’’ said Samuel D. Harms, a former chairman of the Republican Party of Greenville County, S.C. “I would be surprised if the average Herman Cain supporter viewed Newt Gingrich as being in the same camp.’’
Patricia Sullivan, a Tea Party leader from Florida, said she does not know whom she would support if Cain were to drop out. But she knows which candidate definitely will not get her vote: Romney.
“Absolutely not,’’ said Sullivan, who is chairwoman of The Tea Party Network, a coalition of 79 Tea Party groups in Florida. “Romney is like the antithesis of Cain. Romney is a champion for Romney. Cain is a champion for the people.’’
Sullivan said she likes Gingrich’s combative style in debates, but does not view him as an alternative to Cain. She said she is concerned that he may not be as conservative as some believe.
“If I were ever to support Newt, I would have to do a complete reassessment of what I want,’’ Sullivan said. “But I’m really hoping that not only will Cain stay in, but he’ll fight these accusers and these allegations.’’
Cain told his staff yesterday that he is reassessing his campaign, a day after Ginger White, a divorced mother of two, came forward to say that she had had a 13-year affair with him. It followed multiple accusations that he sexually harassed women in the 1990s.
“Now, with this latest one, we have to do an assessment as to whether or not this is going to create too much of a cloud, in some people’s minds,’’ Cain said in a conference call with his staff, according to National Review, which said it participated in the call.
Cain said he would stick to his campaign schedule “until we complete our assessment over the next several days.’’
“But if a decision is made, different than to plow ahead, you all will be the first to know,’’ he said.
Most of Cain’s rivals declined to discuss his troubles, but Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor who has not gained much traction in the GOP race, said Cain should consider quitting.
“You’ve got to be reconsidering, just based on how we have lost focus on the issues that really do matter,’’ Huntsman told the Globe. “Every time another accusation comes up, it diminishes our ability to stay focused on the issues that really do matter for the American people. And I think that’s a disservice to the voters.’’
Cain had soared into the lead in surveys but he now trails Gingrich and Romney, with support from 16 percent of voters nationwide, according to Real Clear Politics’ average of recent polls.
Chip Saltsman, who managed Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign in 2008, said that Romney might actually benefit if Cain quits.
“At first blush, people will say it hurts him, but I think it might help him because it paints a picture of this guy being solid since the beginning,’’ Saltsman said. “At the end of the day, Cain supporters will flock to many of the camps.’’
Saltsman said Romney, unlike Gingrich, also has the kind of organizational muscle needed to galvanize support from Cain backers in Iowa.
“The challenge for Speaker Gingrich is - I don’t see any kind of organization or boots on the ground in Iowa that are crucial to winning the caucuses,’’ he said.
Michael Levenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.