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Herman Cain's Long Odds Get Lengthier After Sex Harassment Report

It should have been another good weekend for Herman Cain. It wasn't.

The heretofore surging Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain was lifted by news Saturday that he was tied with Mitt Romney at the top of the Des Moines Register's poll of likely Iowa caucus attendees. Then he was hit by heavy turbulence when Politico reported that, as head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, he was at least twice accused of sexually harassing behavior by women who left after receiving payments from the trade group.

By the time Halloween ends, Cain will have had at least two high-profile chances in front of TV cameras and audiences to answer questions about the charges at two previously arranged events.

He had scheduled appearances at the American Enterprise Institute to talk about his 9-9-9 tax plan and another at the National Press Club. (And probably many other chances, too, since anytime reporters see him, they'll surely put relevant questions to him.)

Cain's spokesman, Mark Block of the viral "smoking" video, told NBC News' Chuck Todd on MSNBC Monday morning: "Herman Cain has never sexually harassed anybody, period. End of story." We don't think so.

Obviously, we can't know now how this will all play out. There's evidence some conservatives are rallying around him, viewing the revelation as a dirty trick by liberals. Some see similarities to sexual harassment bomb that went off during the Senate confirmation hearings for Justice Clarence Thomas

But there's also the suspicion that Cain is on the receiving end of oppo research by one of his rival Republican candidates. Opposing campaigns would clearly have a motive for wanting to burst the Herman Cain bubble.

Then there's the possibility that someone just thought the public had a right to know that these allegations existed and that there wasn't a political agenda per se.

Of course, it could be some combination of the above.

Whatever the case, Cain faced long odds to win the nomination even before the harassment allegations surfaced. Those odds have obviously gotten even longer.

One problem for Cain is that most voters still don't know much about him. They know about his tax plan and they know that he's the charismatic black Republican with the stentorian voice.

They may know he once ran Godfather's Pizza. But he hasn't been in the public's consciousness for all that long. They don't have a long experience of his character. So the report that his behavior made some women so uncomfortable at the restaurant association that they left and that the organization gave them money going out the door gains more traction than it would with a well-known candidate long viewed as having high character.

How much Texas Gov. Rick Perry or any other anyone-but-Romney candidate will benefit from the disclosures is obviously on the minds of many as the new work week starts.

While Cain appealed to some of the same Tea Party supporters as Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, those candidates have some serious weaknesses in voters' eyes also.

So it's not so straightforward that any Cain loss of support would automatically mean significant gains for Perry or Bachmann.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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