Stridently denying allegations of an extramarital affair, Herman Cain returned to New Hampshire on Wednesday night telling supporters he was a victim of character assassination and would make a decision about whether to stay in the race within a few days after sitting down face-to-face with his wife Friday.
"They keep coming after me," Cain told volunteers who gathered at his headquarters on Lowell Street in downtown Manchester. "After that latest firestorm, there were some people who thought that I was finished, but I'm going to leave it with Yogi Berra's comment. It ain't over till it's over, and it ain't over yet.”
Cain added that "as a business person you don't do a knee-jerk reaction. You collect all of the facts, you evaluate all of the facts. You consider all of the information that you need before you make a decision. Folks, that's the way I would run this country."
Cain’s campaign has been rocked this week by the allegations of Ginger White, an Atlanta woman who said she had carried on a casual, consensual affair over 13 years with the former business executive, who is married with grown children. The accusations followed revelations that his former employer, the National Restaurant Assn., had paid settlements to two women who accused Cain of sexual harassment between 1996 and 1999 while he headed the lobbying group. Cain’s lawyer referred to those payouts as “nuisance payments.”
Cain also denied the allegations of a Chicago woman, Sharon Bialek, who said he made unwanted sexual advances toward her in 1997 after she met him in Washington seeking help in her job search. White said she decided to tell Atlanta’s WAGA-TV about her relationship with Cain after she was contacted by a slew of other media outlets.
Echoing his comments during a tour of Ohio earlier Wednesday, Cain suggested in Manchester that his opponents were orchestrating the attacks against him, but did not identify who was attempting to harm him. “If your opposition is determined to bring you down, they will stop at nothing,” Cain told reporters in a brief news conference after his visit with volunteers.
There was widespread speculation within the political establishment that Cain might bow out of the race after he told supporters and donors during a conference call that he was “reassessing” his campaign, in part because he was concerned about the toll the accusations had taken on his family.
On Wednesday night, Cain acknowledged that his fundraising plunged when the allegations first broke, but said donations had begun to pick up as supporters learned of what he described as inconsistencies in White’s story.
"We are going through a reassessment—that’s what you do as a business person—you go through a reassessment,” Cain said in Manchester. “If you have a business and it hits a bump in the road, you reassess, you re-evaluate. We are reevaluating the impact on my family—and that’s No. 1, folks.”
“A few of our warm weather supporters have, you know, gotten off the Cain train, but the good news is many of our solid supporters are still on. And once we clear up this most recent accusation, I think a lot of people are going to see it for what it was worth.”
Appearing on Fox News earlier in the day, Cain said it would be at least several days before he makes a final decision. “I haven’t set an exact time yet,” Cain told Fox’s Neil Cavuto. “There are some people in this country and some people that are part of this establishment – I don’t have their names – who do not want somebody that truly represents the people, someone who’s going to be very aggressive on really making changes, to win the nomination or win the White House.”
The former Godfather’s Pizza chief executive was back in the Granite State for a rescheduled interview with the influential New Hampshire Union Leader editorial board, which is slated for Thursday.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has maintained a wide lead in New Hampshire, where he owns a summer home.
Cain tumbled to fifth place in New Hampshire – tied with Texas Gov. Rick Perry at 4% -- in the WMUR Granite State Poll released just before Thanksgiving. Romney was leading the field with 42%; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (15%) and Texas Rep. Ron Paul (12%) followed in second and third place.
Cain did not show up for a scheduled interview with the Union Leader last month after the candidate’s campaign objected to the newspaper’s plan to allow CSPAN to tape the interview. His team called to cancel 45 minutes after the interview was to begin, according to the newspaper.
The Union Leader reported that there was confusion about the taping and that Publisher Joe McQuaid had rejected the campaign’s suggestion that the interview with Cain should be 20 minutes long instead of a full hour.
On Sunday, the Union Leader endorsed Gingrich on its front page, praising his “innovative, forward-looking strategy and positive leadership.”
Cain was asked whether the accusations against him made him a problematic general election nominee particularly if new allegations arise.
"I have worked with thousands of people. I can't possibly say that someone won't trump up another accusation," Cain told reporters at the news conference at a steakhouse below his campaign headquarters. "It just goes with the territory. So there's no way that I can guarantee that some more mess as my grandmother would say [isn't] going to come up.
"It makes me problematic if you are looking for someone with no blemishes and no accusations," Cain continued. "When was the last time that we had the perfect candidate with no blemishes? My point is this: If your opposition is determined to bring you down, they will stop at nothing."
Cain said support from his backers so far has been "overwhelming," but he acknowledged that he was closely watching his fundraising numbers.
"The day that this latest one hit, fundraising went way down. I admit that because a lot of people were in doubt," he said. "But here's the good news: As the week has gone on and this woman who has made these accusations has basically started to contradict herself, our fundraising is starting to go back up. It's not up to the level where it was, but a lot of people are saying -- you know what? -- they don't believe it."
The candidate said his first priority was sitting down in person with his wife, Gloria, to "walk through this."
"I will do that when I get back home on Friday," he said.