Candidate Cain struggles on personal, policy fronts
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The air may finally be coming out of Herman Cain's 2012 balloon.
Opinion polls suggest that the wave of support that lifted the Republican presidential candidate from longshot to unlikely front-runner is cresting, the result of a month of trouble for the businessman.
"We're seeing the first sets of evidentiary data that suggests that the problems of the last couple of weeks have resonance and spell real trouble for the Cain campaign," said Republican strategist Phil Musser.
Accusations of sexual harassment against Cain by four women have not gone away despite his heated denials. And now the well-spoken former radio talk show host is trying to explain away a moment on Monday when it appeared he was caught flat-footed by a routine question about Libya.
The Cain mental lapse is perhaps more deadly than the one experienced a week ago by fellow White House aspirant, Texas Governor Rick Perry. Perry's inability to recall one of the three government agencies he would try to eliminate if elected was a spectacular gaffe, but at least he knew the answer, he just couldn't remember it at the time.
In Cain's case, the former pizza magnate looked genuinely stumped when asked by the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel whether he agreed with the way President Barack Obama handled the uprising in Libya.
The five-minute video that ensued is a politician's nightmare. Cain said, "Okay, Libya." Seconds of silence ticked away as Cain seemingly sorted through his memory banks for an answer.
"I gotta go back, see, got all this stuff twirling around in my head," Cain said.
Cain was leading the field for a time as the conservative alternative to the more moderate Mitt Romney in the race to become the Republican presidential nominee, with the first voting to start in seven weeks.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll showed Cain's "unfavorability" rating has increased to 44 percent, up 17 percentage points since the harassment allegations erupted. Only 29 percent viewed him favorably.
And that was before cable news started replaying his videotaped answer to the Libya question, which he waved off as "just a pause."
"He's now in a perfect storm of political and policy problems. He's dealing with sexual allegations and at the same time that he cannot answer a basic foreign policy question. That is very deadly to a primary voter who is looking for someone to take on President Obama in 2012," said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean.
NEWT TAKING OVER
Cain has now been supplanted by Newt Gingrich as the leading conservative, but he is trying to fight his way back.
On Monday, Fox News broadcast an interview with Cain's wife of 43 years, Gloria Cain, to try to restore his credibility, saying the sexual harassment accusations do not reflect the man she knows so well.
"I know the person that he is. And I know that the person that they were talking about, I don't know who that person is," she told the Fox program "On the Record."
Herman Cain told Radio Iowa on Tuesday that he believed most voters have considered the facts and determined the accusations are baseless.
"There has been no new information, no new data, no new facts, no new nothing. So there isn't anything we can do other than to stay on message," Cain said.
Ipsos pollster Chris Jackson said Cain may be able to ride out the harassment charges simply because many of his conservative supporters do not believe what the mainstream media reports anyway.
"There's definitely an element of that. People who say they support Herman Cain are the ones least likely to say they believe various claims," he said.
But the Libyan problem could be more damaging because it raises the issue of whether Cain has the foreign policy chops to serve as commander in chief.
"He has a lot of questions to answer on whether or not he can stand up and have a real policy debate," said Ryan Rhodes, chairman of the Iowa Tea Party.
Jennifer Duffy, a political expert at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said Cain has sufficient campaign funds to last a while. He has raised $9 million since October 1. But she doubted it would be enough.
"Herman's on his way out. He doesn't know it yet, but the breakup is going to happen," she said.
Revered by millions as a beacon of hope against oppression and as an archetype of reconciliation, Nelson Mandela leaves behind a grieving nation. Video