The presidential campaign of businessman Herman Cain is pushing back against allegations that he engaged in inappropriate behavior with at least two women when he was head of the National Restaurant Association.
The allegations, first reported by Politico on Sunday night, come as Cain, 65, is atop a new Iowa Poll, a key early state where social conservatives are likely to decide who wins the Republican presidential nomination.
According to Politico, at least two women accused Cain of making inappropriate comments and contact during his tenure at the trade lobbying group in the 1990s, and the situation prompted the women, who received undisclosed settlements as a result of their complaints, to leave the organization.
According to documents obtained by Politico, the women complained that Cain made sexually suggestive questions, comments and gestures that made them uncomfortable.
Representatives of the National Restaurant Association declined to discuss personnel matters with Politico.
A Cain spokesman blamed “Washington establishment critics,” saying they are eager to bring down the former Godfather’s pizza chief executive, who has been doing well in opinion polls and fundraising despite having little operational support in key early-voting states. A spokesman for the candidate denied that anything inappropriate happened and said that the matter was resolved more than a dozen years ago.
“Fearing the message of Herman Cain who is shaking up the political landscape in Washington, Inside the Beltway media have begun to launch unsubstantiated personal attacks on Cain,”J.D. Gordon said in an e-mail message Sunday night. “Dredging up thinly sourced allegations stemming from Mr. Cain’s tenure as the Chief Executive Officer at the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, political trade press are now casting aspersions on his character and spreading rumors that never stood up to the facts.”
On Sunday morning, Cain appeared on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” and shortly after he taped that interview, he was questioned about the allegations.
According to Politico, Cain said that he had “thousands of people working for me” over his years as a businessman and he declined to comment on the allegations “until I see some facts or some concrete evidence.”
Over the past several weeks, since skyrocketing to the top tier of the Republican field, Cain has faced scrutiny over his stance on abortion, his knowledge of foreign policy, his “9-9-9″ tax plan and his management style.
Aides said recently that Cain probably will slow the pace of his campaigning over the next few days.
Bloomberg News reported that according to the Iowa Poll, Cain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are in a statistical tie for the most support among Republicans in the state, where the presidential nomination contests will start Jan. 3.
The survey, conducted by the Des Moines Register newspaper, shows Cain with the support of 23 percent of likely caucus participants and Romney backed by 22 percent.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry has considerable work to do in Iowa, the poll shows, if he wants to regain his standing in the race. Perry has support from 7 percent of likely caucus-goers in the poll, trailing Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, at 12 percent. Besides Cain and Romney, Paul was the only Republican candidate to exceed 10 percent.
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., recorded 8 percent support in the poll, virtually tied with 7 percent for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.
Support for former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., who has spent more time in Iowa than any other candidate, stood at 5 percent. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who is not actively competing in Iowa, found support among 1 percent.
The poll was conducted Oct. 23 to 26 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.