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Cain struggles to right his ship

The more forcefully Herman Cain fights to save his presidential campaign, the more events spiral out of the candidate’s control.

After days in which he refused to discuss sexual harassment accusations against him, Cain reversed himself and starred in a nationally televised news conference at which he cast one of his accusers as “a troubled woman” and said he had “never acted inappropriately with anyone, period.”

But as he was preparing to speak, one woman who had leveled such charges anonymously against Cain came forward publicly. Later her lawyer said that a news conference would soon be held by the woman, a U.S. Treasury Department spokeswoman named Karen Kraushaar, and an Illinois woman, Sharon Bialek, who on Monday accused Cain of groping her 14 years ago.

The explosive controversy seemed unlikely to ease soon, as even Cain predicted that opponents would summon more complainants in coming days.

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At the news conference in Scottsdale, where he was raising money for his presidential campaign, Cain firmly denied all allegations about his behavior.

“The charges and the accusations, I absolutely reject,” Cain said. “They simply didn’t happen. They simply did not happen.”

Cain said he would be willing to take a lie detector test to clear his name. But in a sign of the damage already inflicted on his bid for the Republican nomination, Cain raised the possibility of abandoning the race -- if only to shoot down the idea himself.

“As far as these accusations causing me to back off, and maybe withdraw from this presidential primary race -- ain’t going to happen,” he said.

The emergence of Kraushaar stopped any momentum Cain might have sought from his Tuesday appearance. As an employee of the National Restaurant Assn. in the late 1990s, she complained of sexual harassment by Cain when he was the group’s president and chief executive.

Kraushaar received a cash payment from the group in 1999 after signing an agreement that barred her from discussing the complaint that she filed against Cain. In recent days the restaurant organization allowed her attorney to release a statement confirming her complaint, but she did not come forward publicly until her name was circulated Tuesday by news organizations. CNN quoted Kraushaar as telling the woman who hired her from the association that Cain was a “monster.”

Her attorney, Joel P. Bennett, said Kraushaar and Bialek and their attorneys would soon meet publicly.

“My client has decided to hold a joint news conference with as many of the women who complained of sexual harassment by Herman Cain as will participate,” he said, adding that Bialek would be present. Two other women anonymously complained about Cain, and one of them also received a settlement from the restaurant group.

In Scottsdale, Cain called Kraushaar’s allegations “baseless.”

But his main focus was Bialek, who appeared alongside attorney Gloria Allred in New York to assert that Cain had put his hand up her skirt and tried to push her face into his crotch. The incident, she said, took place after they drove from a dinner at which she had sought employment advice. At the time -- the same period in which the other complaints were made -- she had just been laid off from a restaurant association affiliate.

Cain said he could not remember meeting Bialek, much less taking her to dinner and making sexual advances toward her.

“The fact is these anonymous allegations are false, and now the Democratic machine in America has brought forth this troubled woman to make false accusations, statements, many of which exceed common sense,” Cain said.

He had previously blamed disclosure of the sexual harassment complaints on an aide to Republican presidential rival Rick Perry, governor of Texas.

On Tuesday, Cain also suggested he was the target of false allegations by lobbyists and others who did not want a businessman to challenge the status quo in Washington. Cain, who oversaw the restaurant association’s lobbying operation in Washington, said more allegations might emerge in the days or weeks ahead.

“There will probably be others, not because I am aware of any, but because the machine to keep a businessman out of the White House is going to be relentless,” he said.

The allegations of sexual harassment have consumed Cain’s campaign since Oct. 30, when Politico reported that at least two female employees at the restaurant association -- one of them now known to be Kraushaar -- had complained of inappropriate behavior by Cain.

Until then, Cain was best known for his “9-9-9" plan to overhaul and simplify the federal tax code. The tax plan, along with his folksy style, vaulted him to the front of the party’s pack of presidential contenders, alongside former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Asked about the allegations Tuesday, Romney told ABC News: “I don’t want to suppose truth or lack of truth. I just think that it’s important to recognize that a number of women have come forward with concerns. This woman’s charges are particularly disturbing and they’re serious.”

Cain’s disjointed attempts to stop the news media from reporting on the harassment allegations have baffled political strategists of both major parties. Many suggested that he offered a textbook case on poor damage control.

“I don’t think he’s had any of the right instincts,” said Rob Stutzman, a GOP strategist who helped former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger weather allegations of boorish behavior toward women.

“Whether the allegations are true or not, which should be a concern to voters, they should be even more concerned that he’s showing an ineptitude in being able to handle stressful and complicated crises situations, much like you would experience on a daily basis in the White House.”

George Arzt, a veteran Democratic strategist, said Cain’s attempt to discredit Bialek would inevitably harm his standing among women. Cain’s campaign released a history of Bialek’s court cases, including two personal bankruptcies.

“It’s a poor tactic, and it doesn’t work, and it will erode his poll standings,” Arzt said.

Gallup reported Tuesday that Cain’s image among Republicans had already begun to edge downward.

Bialek made the round of network TV morning shows Tuesday. She called on Cain to admit that he “did some inappropriate things” and denied that her motive in making her charges public was to make money.

“I’m just doing this because it’s the right thing to do,” Bialek told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

In Arizona, the former Godfathers Pizza executive said he took sexual harassment seriously and “dealt with it immediately” when it arose in the workplace.

“I might add, it’s not just men who potentially sexually harass women,” he said. “I have always seen situations where women have sexually -- attempted to sexually harass men. It’s very serious.”

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robin.abcarian@latimes.com

michael.finnegan@latimes.com

tom.hamburger@latimes.com

Staff writer Seema Mehta contributed to this report.


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