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On Monday, he repeated claims he also made on “Fox News Sunday” that he is pro-life without exception and blamed the reporter for taking his comments out of context “to come to the erroneous conclusion that I am something other than pro-life from conception — end of story.”

But the most salacious accusations were driven by Politico’s story, which did not name the female restaurant association employees, nor did it specify the kind of “sexually suggestive behavior” in the accusations against Mr. Cain.

The Cain campaign Sunday refused to say whether the accusations were true and claimed the effort was part of a smear campaign. But on Monday, the camp had settled on a firm rejection of the accusations.

Republican strategist John Feehery said the news is “potentially devastating.”

Cain hasn’t run and won at any political level, so he is largely an untested candidate,” Mr. Feehery said. “Bill Clinton was able to survive these allegations, but he was the rare politician who could.”

The report helped attract large crowds to his Monday morning appearances at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank, and then at the National Press Club, where he dismissed the report as a “witch hunt” and said he was “unaware of any sort of settlement” with the women.

“I hope it wasn’t for much, because I didn’t do anything,” he said, before questioning the overall credibility of a story that hinged in part on “two anonymous sources claiming sexual harassment.”

“We’re not going to chase anonymous sources when there’s no basis for the accusations,” he said.

Though he acknowledged the story was a distraction to his campaign, Mr. Cain showed no signs of cracking Monday under the mounting political pressure and growing media circus.

He told the crowd at the National Press Club that he would be “delighted to clear the air.” Earlier in the day, he assured the crowd at the American Enterprise Institute that he would continue to pursue the nomination on his terms.

“By the way, folks, yes, I am an unconventional candidate and, yes, I do have a sense of humor — some people have a problem with that,” he said. “But to quote my chief of staff and all the people that I talk to around this country, ‘Herman, be Herman.’

“And Herman is going to stay Herman,” he promised.