Sharon Bialek has stepped forward and, in her words, put a "face and voice" behind the allegations that presidential candidate Herman Cain made inappropriate sexual advances to women in the past.
I found Bialek, a self-identified Republican from Chicago, to be a credible person at her news conference yesterday when she said Cain, now a GOP presidential candidate, had groped her 14 years ago. I don't know if what she said was true but she conveyed a sense of indignation that she had been treated with disrespect. She had to know that her personal life will now be the subject of media examination and criticism, but she went ahead with her public statement anyway.
Cain is denying any wrongdoing. "There is not an ounce of truth in all of the accusations," he said on ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live," Monday night. He said he would hold a full-fledged news conference Tuesday afternoon to explain what really happened.
His problem is that Bialek's comments create the troubling impression of a pattern of behavior. She is the fourth woman to allege inappropriate conduct by Cain; the other three women have yet to identify themselves publicly. Up to now, Cain has only denied the allegations in vague terms. Now he will have to go beyond that and get into the details if he is to remain a viable candidate.
Cain, a former pizza company executive, caught a break when the news of Bialek's statement yesterday was initially crowded out by the verdict in the Michael Jackson involuntary manslaughter case.
But the media is inexorably returning to the Cain controversy. And even some conservatives who have given Cain the benefit of the doubt are now urging him be more open. They include former Education Secretary and conservative strategist Bill Bennett, who wrote in National Review yesterday that the allegations are stacking up to such an extent that Cain needs to hold a news conference to explain what happened and answer reporters' questions.
It usually takes a while for accusations such as this to sink in with the voters, who want some time to process all the information. My sense is that, unless he puts the doubts to rest, Herman Cain will begin to drop substantially in the polls and become another in a series of flash-and-fade candidates for the GOP presidential nomination.
Many conservatives want a strong candidate of the right to win the nomination, and Cain has seemed to fit that description. But now, in the face of these mounting allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior or, in the view of some, sexual harassment, GOP voters will have to do some soul searching as to whether Cain should really be their choice. Under these conditions, it's hard to see how Cain could bring many independent and suburban women—a key voting bloc—to his candidacy if he became the nominee, unless he quickly manages to exonerate himself.