The Herman Cain sexual harassment story isn’t going away any time soon — that much was guaranteed by a bombshell press conference held by Gloria Allred and yet another Cain accuser just now at the Friar’s Club. The woman in question is Sharon Bialek, a single mom who worked at the National Restaurant Association (NRA) in 1996 and 1997. After an introduction by Allred, Bialek relayed her story.
Bialek says that after being fired by the NRA in 1997, she got in touch with Cain, whom she had met before, to see if he could help her find employment. Bialek says that she traveled to Washington, D.C. and stayed in a hotel. When she got to the hotel, she found, to her surprise, that her room had been upgraded to a “palatial suite.” Bialek met Cain at the lobby bar, which is where Cain revealed that he had upgraded her suite. The two then went out to dinner at an Italian restaurant, which is where Bialek asked Cain if he could do anything to help her find a new job, perhaps back within the NRA. On the ride back from the restaurant, Cain said he would show Bialek the headquarters of the NRA. But then Cain stopped the car and, in Bialek’s words, “suddenly reached over and put his hand on my leg under my skirt and reached for my genitals.” Cain then pushed her head toward his crotch. When Bialek asked what he was doing, Cain replied, “You want a job, right?” Bialek asked him to stop, and he did.
Bialek’s proof, besides her word, includes two sworn statements by her boyfriend at the time and a friend, whom she told about the incident after it happened. That will hardly be convincing evidence for the many people who will see Bialek as a lying opportunist merely seeking fame or money. But Bialek’s emergence seems like a very bad development for Cain in three ways: First, it marks the first time that Cain has been accused of something specific. Secondly, the charges are far worse than an off-color joke — in fact, what Cain is accused of doing sounds more like sexual assault, not sexual harassment. And third, as Ben Smith pointed out earlier today, the press conference provides the scandal’s first TV footage that can be replayed endlessly on cable and network news. Any Republican voters open to believing the charges against Cain will now have plenty of lurid details to mull over for at least the next few days.
Update: A new poll from Pew, conducted before today’s press conference, shows that a plurality of Americans believe the charges on Cain are true, and 43 percent think that the media’s coverage of Cain has been fair. (Thanks, 43 percent of Americans! We think you look good, too!) Interestingly, Republican women are more likely than GOP men to believe Cain’s side of things: 46 percent think the sexual harassment allegations sound false, compared with 33 percent of men who don’t believe the charges. Overall, 39 percent of Republicans are disinclined to believe the charges, a fairly significant portion.
Of course, today’s press conference, which involved a more serious allegation and far more specific charges, may change things. There’s already some evidence to suggest that might be the case. Penny Nance, the head of Concerned Women for America, a conservative group, who had previously been “satisfied” with Cain’s account of things, has changed her tune in the wake of the Allred presser. She’s not the only one, either; it’ll be interesting to track who stays with Cain and who backs off their support over the next couple of days.