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Saturday, November 12, 2011

CAIN'S PAINS

As if the Republican presidential nomination campaign wasn't ridiculous enough with its Dancing With The Stars marathon of repetitive and superficial debates, numerous drop in and drop out candidates and hyper-partisan pundit "analysis", now we have the sex scandal "de jure" to contend with.   Following the trend set by Senator John Ensign
 (R: NV), Governor Mark Sanford (R: SC), Governor Eliot Spitzer (D: NY), Congressmen David Wu (D: OR), Mark Foley (R: FL) and Anthony Weiner (D: NY), Democrat presidential candidate John Edwards, etc. etc. etc. , Herman Cain is now in the media and political cross-hairs. 

In truth, the initial revelations lacked substance.  Cain was not accused of actual sexual dalliances but of the overly broad charge of "sexual harassment". No alleged victims were identified nor were details of the alleged offenses provided.  In these circumstances Cain was simply able to deny the charges and attempt to bring closure to the whole affair.

This tactic fell apart with the latest accusation brought not by second hand reporting but by an actual person.  Sharon Bialek from Chicago appeared with her lawyer Gloria Allred to describe in detail an episode involving a physical encounter with Cain in an automobile.  Shortly afterwards one of the previously anonymous complainants came forward.  Karen Kraushaar, now a federal employee  received a $45,000 "settlement" from the National Restaurant Association in 1999 after filing a sexual harassment complaint against Cain who was the President of the association at the time.  The lawyers for the two women are trying to arrange a joint press conference with the other still anonymous complainants to describe their experiences.

What does all this mean?

First, the claims by Kraushaar and the two as yet unidentified accusers remain unclear.  Earlier reports described them as verbal encounters that made the women feel "uncomfortable".  Kraushaar has since expanded her description to "inappropriate behaviors" and "unwanted advances".  While these general descriptions would be sufficient to make a claim under EEOC regulations they would not be successful without specific and detailed descriptions of the alleged "behaviors and "advances".  Their political impact can also expected to be minimal in the absence of these details but if the joint press conference actually comes about, it seems certain that details will be forthcoming.

The claims by Bialek are much more potentially damaging because of their specificity.  While they do not fall into the legal definition of sexual harassment because that category of offense only applies to workplace conditions and Bialek was unemployed at the time of the alleged encounter, they could have been the subject of a criminal complaint for assault if she had chosen to make it at the time.

Still, questions remain which give some credence to Cain's denials that the incidents ever happened.  First, the question of timing:  Why now, after a decade has passed, are these charges being revealed?  There can be no other answer for this except that the women are trying to destroy Cain's candidacy.  What other motive can there be for the delay?  Cain has been a public figure for many years; a candidate for President in 2000 and for the U.S. Senate in 2004; and a radio talk show host.

Why do these women need lawyers? Kraushaar might have sought legal council in 1999 to assist in filing her harassment complain but there is no obvious reason for her to retain counsel just to make a public disclosure of a past complaint.  Bialek has retained Gloria Allred, which by itself gives her complaint the bad smell of artificiality.  Allred is a publicity seeking, California celebrity lawyer specializing in publicity seeking complaints from publicity seeking clients.

The fact that complaints were filed is a political problem for Cain but the fact that none were ever adjudicated against him because in two instances litigation and publicity avoidance "settlements" were made, and in the others no claims were ever made, leaves the issue of Cain's guilt undecided.

However, the campaign is not a court room and no rules of evidence or preponderance of evidence standards apply.  Voters will make up their own minds based not only on the credibility of the complainants but on their pre-complaint opinions of Cain as a spokesman for their political preferences and ideological orientation.  Essentially, those who like him a lot will remain loyal. Evidence of this already is apparent.  The danger for Cain is that his denials will lack credibility to less fervent supporters and to those voters who remain undecided about which candidate to support.  Evidence for this is also apparent as his poll numbers in some polls have shown a decline.

In this respect the "electabilty" issue becomes more important as a consideration as opposed  to personal preference.  Cain's hard core conservative supporters don't seem to care about this issue or have simply convinced themselves that he can actually beat Obama anyway.  This is in spite of the harassment issue and its sensitivity to female voters and his previously identified knowledge deficits in the area of foreign policy as well as his clumsy retractions of statements regarding immigration and abortion. 

It is difficult to predict to whom potential Cain defectors will turn if he doesn't recover.  Cain's current support seems to be coming from the far right.  That would indicate that Perry or Paul would be the beneficiaries of loyalty transfers.  But New Gingrich has been slowly climbing in the polls and is probably the most articulate and experienced proponent of conservative ideas so he could benefit if socially conservative voters can forgive him for his multiple marriages and seemingly callous divorces.  Early polls seem to indicate a trend in this direction. In any case a depletion of support for Cain who is currently in first place, and a distribution of that support among the rest of the conservative candidates would help Romney, who is in second place nationally, the most.

Republican voters whose main goal is to defeat Obama need to consider what a Cain campaign against Obama would look like in the face of these harassment allegations.  Debates with Obama would inevitably make the allegations a continuing subject of discussion.  Campaign appearances around the country would be certain to bring out disruptive sign carrying protestors repeating and exaggerating the charges.  At the very least these would be a distraction and like debate questions force Cain off his economic message which is his strength.

It's too early to declare Cain's campaign dead.  More revelations about the accusers may come out which detract from their credibility and if so the issue could fade.  However, it is more likely that more information which supports their claims or that more accusers will come forward, whether or not they have credible stories to tell.  Unfortunately that's the jungle like atmosphere of modern day elections and goes a long way in explaining why more highly qualified candidates choose not to enter the fray. 

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