By Shannon McCaffrey
ATLANTA (AP) – Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, confronted with a woman’s explosive claims of an unwanted sexual advance, plans a news conference Tuesday to deal with the latest in a string of claims that have rocked his campaign.
Cain has denied all the allegations as a smear campaign designed to upend his rise to the top of the polls.
“There is not an ounce of truth to all these allegations” and the graphic, televised account from Sharon Bialek is “totally fabricated,” the former businessman told late-night TV talk show host Jimmy Kimmel.
Cain vowed to “set the record straight.” He will answer reporters’ questions at an appearance in Phoenix, reversing course after saying on Saturday that he was done talking about the claims of sexual harassment that first became public with the airing of anonymous claims by two other women more than a week ago.
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Bialek went on television Monday and became the fourth woman to accuse Cain, and the first to go public. Bialek’s accusations — that Cain groped her in a car after she asked for his help finding a job — spun his unorthodox campaign into an uncertain new territory.
Cain, a novice politician and surprise entrant into the presidential race, has risen to the top of public opinion polls and emerged as the main conservative challenger to Mitt Romney. Tea party activists and conservatives unready to support former Massachusetts governor have flocked to Cain’s tell-it-like-it-is style and self-styled outsider image in recent weeks.
There were, however, growing signs of unease in conservative circles as, one by one, a handful of women claimed Cain acted inappropriately toward them while the head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s.
“He deserves a fair chance. But that doesn’t mean he gets a pass. These are not anonymous allegations anymore unfortunately,” said New Hampshire conservative activist Jennifer Horn, who last week had condemned media coverage of the allegations against Cain. “He does need to take another step and answer a few more questions.”
Still, Cain backers remained solidly behind the former pizza company executive. They pointed to the presence of Gloria Allred — a high-profile attorney with Democratic ties — alongside Bialek at a news conference on Monday in New York as proof that the latest claim was a partisan smear.
“The fact that she’s involved removes all credibility,” Georgia Christian Coalition president Jerry Luquire said. “If he says he didn’t do anything than I believe him.”
At least two women who worked at the restaurant group under Cain filed sexual harassment complaints and received payouts to leave the association.
A third woman told The Associated Press last week that she considered filing a workplace complaint against Cain over what she deemed sexually suggestive remarks and gestures that included a private invitation to his corporate apartment. And a former pollster for the restaurant association has said he witnessed yet another episode involving a different woman.
In New York on Monday, Bialek said Cain — an acquaintance — made a sexual advance in 1997, when she had traveled to Washington to have dinner with him in hopes he could help her find work or get her job back at the National Restaurant Association after she had been fired from a job in the group’s education arm.
The two met in Washington, she said, and after having dinner were in a car for what she thought was a ride to an office building.
“Instead of going into the offices he suddenly reached over and he put his hand on my leg, under my skirt toward my genitals,” she said. “He also pushed my head toward his crotch.”
She said she asked Cain what he was doing and recalled he replied, “You said you want a job, right?”
None of Cain’s other accusers has provided details as graphic as Bialek’s account. But Joel Bennett, an attorney who represents one of them, said her details were “similar in nature” to what his client encountered.
In his only public appearance of the day, Cain told Kimmel during the late-night interview that he got angry and disgusted as he watched Bialek and Allred. He said his wife didn’t watch it but that he called her immediately afterward.
Minutes after Bialek’s news conference, the Cain camp flatly denied the charges.
“Mr. Cain has never harassed anyone,” spokesman J.D. Gordon said in a statement. Aides insisted that the newest allegation changed nothing and said Cain would move forward with his plans to attend a private speech in Phoenix on Tuesday morning and a debate Wednesday night in Michigan.
Later that night, the campaign announced that Cain would appear at the Phoenix news conference.
“The questions the media should be asking are who’s paying for Gloria Allred’s fee, how did Ms. Bialek get introduced to Ms. Allred, and was she paid to come forward with these false accusations or was she promised employment?” the news release said.
Allred has said Bialek approached her and that her client didn’t get compensated for stepping forward.
Bialek stood by her accusation when asked about it Tuesday morning in the wake of Cain’s denial, saying in a televised interview that she had “nothing to gain” by coming forward. She said “it’s not about me. I’m not running for president.”
She said she had no financial motivation to come forward, wasn’t offered a job and wasn’t being asked by Allred to pay a legal fee.
“I’m just doing this because it’s the right thing to do,” she said in one televised interview. Bialek said she waited so long to come forward because “I was embarrassed … and I just kind of wanted it to go away.”
Associated Press writers Shannon McCaffrey in Atlanta, Steve Peoples in New Hampshire and Jim Davenport in South Carolina contributed to this report.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.