WASHINGTON — In a matter of a week, Herman Cain referred to the House Democratic leader as “Princess Nancy” Pelosi, said presidential rival Michele Bachmann would be “tutti-frutti” ice cream, and shrugged off a joke about Anita Hill.
The Republican presidential candidate also has denied allegations that he sexually harassed several women and, through his lawyer, threatened to investigate anyone else who makes such a claim.
Now, as Cain struggles to stabilize his campaign, the Republican presidential candidate is rolling out his wife to defend him — and help stop the flood of female voters fleeing from him.
“I know that’s not the person he is,” Gloria Cain said on Fox News Channel’s “On The Record.” “He totally respects women.”
Her public foray into the presidential campaign after months of staying behind the scenes comes as polls show Herman Cain’s support among women dropping, further threatening a campaign rocked by accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior.
Cain’s overall standing has slipped in surveys just weeks before the Iowa presidential caucuses that kick off the state-by-state voting for the Republican Party’s nomination; state and national polls show former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leading the pack, with Cain no longer challenging him for the top spot.
Two polls released in recent days show that female voters specifically have turned away from him since the sexual harassment allegations.
A CBS News poll conducted Nov. 6-10 showed his support among Republican women having dropped since late October, from 28 percent then to 15 percent now. And a CNN/ORC International poll conducted Nov. 11-13 showed that majorities of all women said they tend to believe Cain’s accusers and would like to see the candidate end his campaign; majorities of men take the opposite position.
The polls are national in scope, meaning they’re hardly predictive of how Cain is faring in Iowa — the first state to weigh in on the GOP nomination fight on Jan. 3.
Even so, the findings of the national surveys raise questions of whether Cain, should he manage to win the nomination, be able to compete for women’s votes against President Barack Obama in next year’s general election.
Women have made up a majority of voters in every presidential year since 1980, and while Democrats tend to win the group, successful Republicans have had to win or come close to splitting the vote among women in order to prevail.
In the 2008 presidential election, female eligible voters participated at a higher rate than males — 66 percent to 62 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. Nearly 10 million more women cast ballots than men. And Obama won 56 percent of the female vote, the biggest margin among women a Democratic presidential candidate has had since exit polling began in 1972.
Over the past two weeks, Cain has repeatedly denied the allegations of sexual harassment, though they aren’t going away.
On Monday, the former boyfriend of Sharon Bialek — one of Cain’s accusers — said Monday the then-couple spent an evening with Cain in the 1990s. That countered the GOP presidential candidate’s earlier statements that he never met the woman.
“Sharon indeed did meet and spend time with Mr. Cain,” said Victor Jay Zuckerman, a Louisiana pediatrician.
In turn, Cain’s attorney, Lin Wood, insisted that his client “doesn’t recall Ms. Bialek.”
But Cain, in earlier statements, said he had seen Bialek “for the very first time” last week when she publicly accused him of groping her in 1997.
“As I sat in my hotel room with a couple of my staff members, as they got to the microphone, my first response in my mind and reaction was, I don’t even know who this woman is. Secondly, I didn’t recognize the name at all,” Cain said.
Later, Cain added: “I don’t even know who this woman is. I tried to remember if I recognized her and I didn’t.”
It wasn’t just the allegations of sexual harassment Cain had had to explain.
He’s also been forced to answer for his colorful statements about women.
During a debate last week, Cain likened Pelosi to royalty for blocking efforts to repeal Democrats’ health care overhaul as House speaker. After the debate, Cain said he “probably should not have made” that comment.
Not long after that, Cain found himself defending a joke he made about Hill, who famously accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.
Cain said he was approached at a recent event by a supporter who said Hill was trying to contact him.
“And my response was ‘Is she going to endorse me?’” Cain said in an interview Friday on WGDJ-AM Albany, N.Y. “He said it in a humorous way. I gave back a humorous response. It was in no way intended to be an insult toward Anita Hill or anybody else.”
In a lighthearted interview with GQ magazine, Cain couldn’t resist when asked what ice cream flavor he’d would best describe Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman running against him.
“Tutti-frutti,” he said, adding, “I know I’m going to get in trouble!”
With voting near, Cain has little choice but to try to fix the problem with female voters.
Enter Gloria Cain.
“To hear such graphic allegations and know that that would have been something that was totally disrespectful of her as a woman and I know that’s not the person he is,” Gloria Cain told host Greta Van Susteren. “I’m thinking he would have to have a split personality to do the things that were said.”
Her response was expected.
“Every woman who finds out her husband is a harasser has a hard time believing it,” said Karen O’Connor, founder of the nonpartisan Women & Politics Institute at American University. “This is another ‘stand by your man.’”
Now other Republican women will have to decide whether to stand by him, too.