, WASHINGTON, Nov 30 – Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain told staff he is reassessing his White House bid amid allegations of an extramarital affair, but later assured his donors he was “not deterred.”
Senior staffers told several US media outlets including ABC News and the Washington Post that Cain announced in a staff conference call that he was reassessing the viability of his challenge for the Republican nomination to battle President Barack Obama in the November 2012 elections.
The 65-year-old former pizza executive rose dramatically in the polls in September and October, but his fortunes have faded amid a series of accusations of sexual harassment.
In the latest blow to his campaign, an Atlanta woman alleged on Monday that she had a 13-year affair with Cain that ended just eight months ago. Cain has acknowledged a friendship with the woman, Ginger White, but denied any affair.
The National Review magazine listened to and transcribed the morning conference call, in which Cain stressed he had a friendship with White and was helping her financially “because she was out of work and destitute, desperate.”
“That being said, obviously, this is cause for reassessment,” the magazine quoted Cain as saying, adding he would come to a decision “over the next several days.”
The candidate described the reassessment as being similar to those made by his campaign after revelations last month that he faced sexual harassment accusations from four women — two of whom have publicly come forward.
Cain has repeatedly denied all impropriety, but acknowledged an assessment was needed “as to whether or not this is going to create too much of a cloud, in some people’s minds, as to whether or not they would be able to support us going forth,” according to National Review.
In a letter sent later in the day to his donor list, Cain said White was “troubled” and had offered a “fabricated, unsubstantiated story.”
“This is a trying time for my family, my campaign, and for me,” Cain wrote.
But he pledged: “Let me assure you, I am not deterred. America’s future is too important. We will continue on this journey to make America great once again.”
On Monday, Cain’s attorney Lin Wood sought to downplay White’s bombshell claim, saying any accusation of “private, alleged consensual conduct between adults” should not be debated by the media or the public.
Wood told the Washington Post Tuesday that he had not ruled out advising Cain to take legal action against White, saying: “That’s a decision that can be made down the road.”
Cain’s campaign — looking to keep the “Cain Train” on the rails, said on Twitter: “The definition of reassess is: To consider again, esp. while paying attention to new factors. Doesn’t sound like dropping out…”
Steve Grubbs, Cain’s campaign manager in the early-voting state of Iowa, was in attack mode on Twitter, accusing White of being a “stalking, defaming, libeler.”
“Obviously these things are a distraction — they slow us down, it’s a challenge. But we’re going to keep moving forward,” Grubbs told CNN.
Republican candidate Jon Huntsman, who has been polling well below Cain for months, said the impropriety issue has become a crippling distraction from the bigger campaign themes.
“Given the bandwidth that has been taken out of the discussion of any other issues pertinent to this campaign, a reconsideration might be in order,” Huntsman told the Boston Globe.
Many analysts have described the latest allegations as a political death-blow for Cain.
“It’s going to be hard for him to separate himself from all of these allegations, whether or not they are true,” Republican strategist Ron Bonjean told CNN. “It’s like a massive spider web that he can’t seem to get out of.”
Democratic strategist Liz Chadderdon was more blunt: “I do think Herman Cain’s roller-coaster ride is coming to an end.”
A Cain flame-out would be the most dramatic development yet in the Republican nomination contest, which sees its first votes cast on January 3 in Iowa.
Should Cain drop out, the race would be on for rivals to snatch up his supporters.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has been seen as the longtime frontrunner, but some recent polls have seen him eclipsed by Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House.
Gingrich, who has acknowledged his own past infidelity, spoke kindly of Cain Tuesday.
“No, he’s not disqualified…. I think that any candidate has the right to try to recover,” he told CBS News.