WASHINGTON — Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain is ducking out of view in advance of the next party debate Wednesday, having declared he is done answering questions about allegations of sexual harassment lodged by women who worked with him in the 1990s.
While most of his fellow Republican hopefuls must be silently enjoying the bubbling and highly public scandal surrounding Cain, a political novice who has shot to the top of the field, they likely aren't happy that the focus on his candidacy has drawn attention from them.
And it's occurring less than two months before the first votes are cast in the process to nominate a challenger to Democratic President Barack Obama in 2012.
Even fellow front-runner Mitt Romney, favorite of the Republican establishment, had trouble generating much attention when he gave a significant Washington speech on Friday about cutting government spending and overhauling Medicare, the government health insurance program for Americans of retirement age — both key issues for the party's candidates.
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While Cain initially blamed Texas Gov. Rick Perry's campaign for leaking the sexual harassment allegations and significant payouts to the women who lodged them, he has since backed off that charge, choosing instead to attack the news media for paying too much attention to charges he has denied.
But two key Republicans said on Sunday that it was time for Cain to say more — to get the facts out.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a former party chairman, told NBC's "Meet the Press" that "people need to know what the facts are." He said Cain should "get those out as quickly as possible."Story: Cain's support dips after sex accusations
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, a Republican presidential contender, said on the same program: "It's up to Herman Cain to get the information out, and get it out in total."
For any of the Republican challengers to make a come-from-behind dash with so little time remaining before the state nominating primary votes and caucuses — which being in earnest in January — they must be able to be heard above the din of the Cain scandal. But to this point neither his anonymous accusers nor the candidate appear ready to add talk more.
The women accusers, who worked with Cain when he was head of the National Restaurant Association, a trade group, apparently fear damage to their reputations and careers. Cain seemingly believes that his silence going forward will cause the allegations to fade from relevance.
Cain said on Saturday he would speak no more about the allegations.
So far polls indicated the scandal has not cut into Cain's support, which has him neck-and-neck with Romney at the top of the Republican heap, and the candidate has been hauling in donations that far out strip his fundraising before the allegations became public.Video: Bank Transfer Day, Herman Cain and Andy Rooney (on this page)
Perry, once seen as the best hope of the conservative tea party wing of the Republicans, has disappeared from news reports with the exception of a video of a bizarre appearance in the state of New Hampshire, raising questions about his sobriety at the event.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and the candidate with the biggest campaign bankroll, continues to cruise along, staying away from reporters and apparently comfortable with his level of support — banking on challengers like Cain and Perry to self-destruct along the way.
Others in the field are having trouble finding or reviving broad support.
Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann, who once was in the top tier, languishes at single digits in polling. Former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich has a loyal but narrow group of backers. Perry has fallen from the top of the polls after poor debate performances. Huntsman languishes in last place, and the remainder of the field has insignificant backing.
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