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For Herman Cain, Alleged Affair Could Prove More Damaging than Harassment Claims

Cain campaign says questions about ‘private sexual life’ are out of bounds.

GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain is "reassessing" his candidacy in light of an allegation that he had a 13-year-long extramarital affair. Many social conservatives are reassessing their support for the Cain campaign since Atlanta businesswoman Ginger White told a Fox News affiliate that she was involved in a "very inappropriate situation, relationship" with Cain.

Cain campaign suggested that such an extramarital affair would be private and not a legitimate topic for public scrutiny. The allegation of an extended affair comes on the heels of claims of sexual harassment during Cain's time as president of the National Restaurant Association. Cain has denied both the affair with White and the harassment charges.

When Cain faced harassment charges, many conservatives came to the candidate's defense. The charges were simply that—allegations. Cain was considered innocent until proven guilty. Newt Gingrich, one of Cain's rivals for the Republican nomination, told NBC on November 11, "Up to now [Cain] seems to have satisfied most people that the [harassment] allegations aren't proven, and that having people who hold press conferences isn't the same as a conviction. So I think people are giving him the benefit of the doubt."

According to a poll of likely Iowa Republican voters, born-again Christians and cable news watchers became more supportive of Cain after the harassment allegations.

A poll began a week before the November 7 press conference by women claiming harassment allegations against Cain and ran for another week after. While the average voter grew slightly less supportive of Cain after the press conference, those who watched cable news saw Cain as more intelligent, more trustworthy, and a stronger leader after the allegations than they did before the press conference.

"The effect of the scandal on perceptions of Cain depends on where people are getting their information," said Dave Peterson, interim director of the Harkin Institute of Public Policy. "Those who tune in to the major networks react as one might expect: they view him more negatively. Cable news watchers, in contrast, report more positive assessments, suggesting that they are rallying behind Cain."

Among likely Republican caucus goers, there was a drop in the support for Cain among Catholics and Mainline Protestants (those who did not say they are "born again"). Among evangelical, born-again voters, however, there was an increase in support for Cain after the harassment claims, according to data Peterson provided to Christianity Today.

White had records of 61 phone calls by Cain's personal cell phone to her. Fox News 5 texted the phone, and Cain called them back. He said he knew White but was only trying to help her financially.

While Cain denied the allegation of an affair, Cain's attorney, Lin Wood, sent FOX 5 in Atlanta a statement about the claims:

...This is not an accusation of harassment in the workplace – this is not an accusation of an assault - which are subject matters of legitimate inquiry to a political candidate.

Rather, this appears to be an accusation of private, alleged consensual conduct between adults - a subject matter which is not a proper subject of inquiry by the media or the public. No individual, whether a private citizen, a candidate for public office or a public official, should be questioned about his or her private sexual life. The public's right to know and the media's right to report has boundaries and most certainly those boundaries end outside of one's bedroom door...

The statement did not deny the allegation. It argued that one's private life has no bearing on a candidate's public integrity—an argument that did not sit well with many conservatives who have now turned on Cain.

Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, called Wood's statement "a disaster" and "an argument of desperation."

"Voters know that a candidate's sexual life is an essential dimension of character. So is the candidate's fidelity or lack of fidelity in marriage," Mohler said. "Character does not end at the bedroom door. Any effort to make this claim will be recognized by the public for what it is. We live in a morally confused age, but there is little confusion about the fact that sexual behavior and personal character are inseparable. The question of character is among the most crucial issues of a political campaign."

Iowa talk-radio host Steve Deace told Politico that the statement by Cain's lawyer was the "kill-shot" for Cain's campaign. "For an ordained Baptist minister to assert through his attorney that what happens in his private sex life doesn't matter is preposterous," Deace said.

In an interview on the Scott Hennen radio show, Michele Bachmann said her campaign considered Cain's run for the nomination to be all but over.

"When it came out yesterday, everyone said, 'This is it. He's done.'" Bachmann said. "And so people just don't see that there is an ability for him to be able to come back after that." Bachmann told Hennen that she would likely benefit from Cain's departure and from other candidates falling in the polls.

Most of Cain's opponents, including frontrunners Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, have remained silent.

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