Gingrich: Cain should give a ‘clear and compelling explanation’

The Republican presidential contenders have avoided saying much of anything about the accusations of sexual harassment lodged against Herman Cain over the last week. But several of the candidates seemed to be seeking a new level of distance from the former Godfather’s Pizza chief executive on Monday night after a woman stepped forward publicly to accuse him of unwanted sexual advances.

“The allegations are very serious,” Mitt Romney told Fox News host Bill O’Reilly during a radio interview. “I’ve got no counsel for the Cain campaign. I’ll let them keep their own counsel and I’m going to focus on my message.”

Newt Gingrich, who displayed exceptional warmth toward Cain during a Saturday debate in Texas, struck a similar tone during O’Reilly’s three-hour radio forum that featured back-to-back interviews with most of the candidates.

Gingrich described Cain as a friend and “a very optimistic, positive guy,” but said the emergence of Sharon Bialek – the first of the four women who has been willing to reveal her identity – “in the open” had altered the dynamics.

“He is going to have to have a clear and compelling explanation for this whole story,” Gingrich said.

“This is a challenge for Herman and he’s got to solve it,” Gingrich added when asked if he expected it to come up in Wednesday night’s debate.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry suggested that the scrutiny was to be expected of any front-runner in the race: “Any time that you rise to the top of the polls… you’re going get to get whacked,” Perry told O’Reilly. “As you said” – he told the Fox News host – “it’s Herman’s turn in the barrel.”