On a day when the accusers — and accusations — piled up against him, Herman Cain held a highly unorthodox news conference in which he defiantly denied all the charges, vowed to remain in the race for the Republican presidential nomination and hinted that Democrats may be behind the sexual harassment story that has dogged him for 10 days.
The former Godfather’s Pizza CEO went as far as to suggest that he would be willing to take a lie-detector test, explained his earlier failure to recall some of the incidents by saying he is “not an expert on how the brain works,” and pointedly noted that women also can sexually harass men.
“I have never acted inappropriately with anyone — period,” he said Tuesday, denying the allegations that one of his accusers, Sharon Bialek, graphically spelled out to the media Monday.
She became the first woman to make her charges public, saying Mr. Cain put his hand under her skirt and reached for her crotch.
On Tuesday, one of those three women, Karen Kraushaar, a Treasury Department employee who worked for Mr. Cain at the association and lodged a complaint against him, went public in the New York Times, floating the idea that all of his accusers should hold a joint news conference. Meanwhile, a fifth woman came forward by telling the Washington Examiner that Mr. Cain showed inappropriate behavior after delivering a speech in Egypt in 2002.
When the accusations first surfaced in a Politico report late last month, citing two unnamed accusers who said they had been harassed at the National Restaurant Association and had received payouts, Mr. Cain denied the incidents and said there had been no settlement.
Since then, the association acknowledged that it doled out payments that barred the women from speaking about their allegations and paid one of his accusers $35,000 and the other $45,000.
Mr. Cain now said he recalls Ms. Kraushaar’s accusations and the financial separation package she received from the National Restaurant Association, but he said the association investigated the complaint she lodged against him and found it “baseless.”
The political saga reached a crescendo this week, beginning with Ms. Bialek’s news conference Monday, when she walked into New York’s Friars Club alongside her celebrity feminist attorney, Gloria Allred.
Ms. Bialek said that after the restaurant association fired her, she sought out Mr. Cain for job advice. After dinner and drinks in Washington, Mr. Cain parked the car near the group’s offices, slid his hand under her skirt, “reached for my genitals” and “grabbed my head and brought it toward his crotch.”
Mr. Cain’s camp immediately called the charge “bogus.” Hours later, the candidate appeared unfazed by the accusation during an appearance on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
“At least it wasn’t one of the many that have the first name ‘Anonymous,’ so now this one actually had a name and a face,” he told Mr. Kimmel.
Mr. Cain also joked that it could be smart for the other candidates to hire women to accuse them of sexual harassment as a way to boost fundraising. He also said his wife told him that Ms. Bialek’s description “doesn’t even sound like you, and I’ve known you for 45 years.”
“My own wife said I wouldn’t do anything as silly as what that woman is talking about,” he said.
The Cain camp continued Tuesday to question Ms. Bialek’s character — first in an email blast and then at the news conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., highlighting what they called her “long and troubled history” in the courts, her difficulty in maintaining a job and problems with her personal finances.
Asked by a reporter whether he would take a lie-detector test, Mr. Cain answered, “Yes, I absolutely would,” and added, “I am not going to do that unless I have a good reason to do that.”
Asked whether he believes sexual harassment is real, he said it is a “very serious charge” and relayed that he has “seen situations where women have attempted to sexually harass men.”
Polls suggest that the allegations have not dented his support among Republican voters, though some influential conservatives are beginning to raise questions.
On Monday, the president of Concerned Women for America said the accusation by Ms. Bialek “gives me pause.”
Mitt Romney, a fellow Republican presidential candidate who is neck-and-neck with Mr. Cain in the latest USA Today/Gallup poll, said Tuesday that the allegations are going to “have to be addressed seriously.”
“I don’t want to suppose truth or lack of truth. I just think it’s important to recognize that a number of women have come forward with concerns; this woman’s charges are particularly disturbing and they’re serious,” the former Massachusetts governor said in an interview with ABC News and Yahoo.com.
Without providing solid evidence, Mr. Cain has responded with accusations of his own. He has made the case that Rick Perry’s presidential team was responsible for leaking the allegations to the media, said that the “smear campaign” against him is partially driven by race and suggested Tuesday that “the Democratic machine” pushed Ms. Bialek to make her accusations.