WASHINGTON — The sexual harassment allegations engulfing the candidacy of Republican Herman Cain dominated American politics Tuesday as prominent conservative voices rallied to his side, saying he was a victim of a "high-tech lynching."
Cain has been pointing to his long record in business to argue that he has the credentials to be president during a time of economic hardship — a small government, anti-tax message that has struck a deep cord with conservatives.
The forceful early reaction to the Cain firestorm — fueled by racially charged rhetoric — suggests the Georgia businessman's attempt to cast himself as a victim of the news media and liberals is, so far, paying dividends among his conservative Republican base who will hold considerable sway in selecting the party's nominee.First Read: Cain's explanations evolve
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But the accusations against Cain, which he denies, may give more moderate Republican voters pause and could cause would-be donors to shy away even as Cain works to capitalize on his rising poll numbers.
It's not the first time Cain has had to explain himself since his quick climb in the polls. The political newcomer had a series of fumbles and has had to clarify comments on abortion, immigration and terrorism suspects.
Supporters were quick to liken Cain's latest troubles to those that roiled the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, another prominent black conservative, who faced sexual harassment allegations during his explosive Senate confirmation hearing two decades ago.
The head of the conservative Media Research Center, Brent Bozell, labeled the story a "high-tech lynching," evoking Thomas' divisive Supreme Court confirmation hearings two decades ago, where he was confronted with sexual harassment allegations from a one-time employee, Anita Hill.Slideshow: Herman Cain (on this page)
Cain is again on the defensive after a report on the Politico website that said the National Restaurant Association gave financial settlements to at least two female employees who had accused him of inappropriate sexual behavior when he was its chairman.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper, meanwhile, reported that Cain allowed a tax-exempt charity to illegally provide money to help his presidential campaign get started. Cain's chief of staff, Mark Block, says the campaign has asked a lawyer to review the transactions.
On Monday, the candidate declared he had been falsely accused of sexual harassment in the 1990s while he was head of the restaurant trade group. He said the allegations that are surfacing now are part of a "witch hunt." He has, however, given varying responses to questions about whether there were financial settlements with the women who brought the complaints.
In a Tuesday interview, Cain told CNN's Headline News that he didn't contradict himself when he said a day earlier that he was unaware of a settlement between a woman and the National Restaurant Association.
He said he was aware of an agreement, but not a settlement.Cain investigates benefits from nonprofit
The Politico 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. Politico said Cain refused to comment when asked specifically about one of the woman's claims.
Cain, who is best known for his management of a pizza restaurant chain, stunned the political establishment with his rise from national obscurity to place at or near the top of national surveys and polls in early presidential nominating states. He is competitive with Romney, long considered the front-runner for the nomination.
Cain was skipping a gathering Tuesday of fellow party hopefuls in Iowa where they were to outline their plans for fixing the damaged U.S. economy. On Jan. 3, Iowa will be the first American state to formally select a favorite Republican candidate for nomination to challenge President Barack Obama in the November 2012 election.
Also absent from the Iowa forum will be Cain's fellow front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has sought to stay above the inter-party scramble that has seen other would-be Obama challengers shoot to the top of the Republican nominating heap only to plunge dramatically and quickly out of contention.
The Associated Press