A few hours after Herman Cain announced the end of his presidential campaign, Ginger White drove to her lawyer’s office in downtown Atlanta to discuss her role in the debacle.
“I’ve never been more exhausted,” said White, who seemed drained and on the edge of tears despite her artful makeup and snappy outfit. “It’s been an emotional rollercoaster; it’s been embarrassing, humiliating, humbling.”
White can’t be said to have cost Cain his shot at the presidency; his unexpected ascent in the polls was reversed by his own political gaffes and allegations of sexual harassment by several other women. But when White went public with her story of a 13-year affair with Cain, many analysts credited her with delivering the death blow to his political prospects.
Cain has denied having any sexual relationship with White, telling CNN, “I have nothing to hide. I have done nothing wrong.” He has described her as a “friend” whom he “helped in these tough economic times.”
For White, an Atlanta single mother of two, the cost of telling her story has been devastating; so far, she said it has included her job, her privacy, and the financial support that Cain acknowledged having given her. “My coming out has caused me to have no more money from Herman Cain and no offers of help from anyone,” she said.
L. Lin Wood, Cain’s attorney, acknowledged that his client had given White money up until very recently. “She was reaching out, asking for financial help, because she couldn’t pay her rent and didn’t have gas in her car,” Wood said. “He gave her some money within probably a week or ten days of when she decided to go public.”
Even driving the few miles to her lawyer’s office presented a challenge for White, who said she has not received any payment for telling her story. “She had trouble scraping together the gas money to come down here,” said Edward Buckley.
White, who said her most recent job was a recruiting position, has been besieged by media requests, with people camping out in front of her apartment and hounding her every move. Desperate to evade the onslaught, she resorted to donning disguises; Buckley said she even dressed as a man for one meeting with him, and he didn’t recognize her until she spoke to him.
At the moment, White said, she just wants to escape the spin cycle. “Leading up to the announcement, I had a knot in my stomach,” White said of Cain’s press conference on Saturday. “I wasn’t sure if we were coming to the end of all this craziness or if we were going to have to continue on with it.”
But when Cain stepped before the cameras, grinning triumphantly as if he had just won an election, White couldn’t even bring herself to watch; she went to her 18-year-old son’s basketball game instead, she said. After Cain’s announcement, she confined her reaction to a statement issued by her lawyer, who said she “respects Mr. Cain’s decision regarding his campaign and indeed would have respected any decision he made.” Buckley added that White is “disappointed that he has not apologized for the public statements he has made about her and other women who have spoken out.”
Indeed, it was Cain’s public disparagement of those women that triggered White’s decision to talk, she said. “I wasn’t surprised when women came out with sexual harassment allegations,” White said. “My initial reaction was, ‘They’re not lying,’ because he feels as if he can approach any women, say whatever he wants to say, and they’re going to be OK with that, just because he’s Herman Cain. He’s very sure of himself. He has this arrogance about him. He feels as if, when he walks across the room, all eyes are upon him. Herman Cain loves Herman Cain.”
“I think anyone who has had the opportunity to meet Mr. Cain would not disagree with that general description,” said Wood. “I think Herman Cain loves his wife, loves his family, loves his country, and he obviously has great confidence in himself and his own abilities as a leader.”
But White said she was deeply upset when Cain denied the women’s charges and insisted that all of his accusers were lying. “I felt really bad for them,” she said. “I thought, Should I speak out? But I never in a million years thought I would come forward. I didn’t have receipts or any of the things people have been asking me for; it was his word against mine.”
Although she said she intended to remain silent about their relationship, White’s hand was ultimately forced when someone else—her lawyer said she’s not sure who—tipped off media outlets. “Unfortunately, it was leaked,” White said. “We were seen at a function or two; people put two and two together. I was getting lots of phone calls: ‘Can you tell me about your relationship with Herman Cain?’ As bad as this whole situation was, I wanted to give my side of the story. I didn’t want someone else to come out with their own version. I wanted to do it on my own terms.”
According to White, who is 46 and has been divorced three times, her relationship with Cain began while she was legally separated from her first husband, John White, the father of her two children. When she met Cain at an event in Louisville, where she lived at the time, he was as bold as he was seductive, she said.
“I was pretty amazed at how a person could just come up to you at a cocktail party, and an hour and a half later he wanted me to follow him to his hotel room to plan our first trip to Palm Springs,” said White, who was then working as a clerk at a transportation company. “It was intriguing. He was a good speaker, he told a lot of jokes, and I thought he was very intelligent and funny. He was very flirtatious, and he complimented me a lot. I was excited; I came home and told my mother, and I told my sisters when he phoned me the next day. I had to make arrangements for my kids, and my sisters were going to babysit.”
In response to these comments, Cain’s attorney said, “I don’t believe he has acknowledged that her version of that initial meeting is totally accurate.”
From the outset, according to White, her relationship with Cain was “pretty straightforward—trips, dinner, drinks, sex, and that was it,” she said. “I saw him the most at the beginning, at least one trip a month for several months.”
“Mr. Cain has denied unequivocally that her description of their relationship is accurate,” said Wood.
Although Cain has been married for 43 years, the subject of his wife almost never came up, said White, who has never met Gloria Cain. “I knew he was married; he had his wedding band on,” she said. “But not until maybe our fourth trip did he even admit he had kids or mention his wife. That’s why I’ve been able to not think about it all these years. This wasn’t a person I heard him talk to on the phone; no ‘Hey, excuse me, I have to take a call from my wife.’ For a long time, she was a person who didn’t really exist, even though I knew she did. It was almost like she was a ghost wife.”
Last week, when MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell asked White about Gloria Cain, White apologized on the air for her affair with Herman Cain. But in general, White sees such wives as engaging in willful self-denial, she said. “I think certain women see what they want to see, hear what they want to hear,” she said on Saturday night. “I would be surprised if some of these wives are surprised to know what their husbands were doing. Women have intuition. I think a lot of women are comfortable, and they don’t want to realize if they’re being cheated on. I don’t think a lot of women want to face up to that.”
But White had no illusions about her relationship with Cain, she said. “Never was I in love with him,” she said. “In the beginning I was naive and intrigued by this person. Initially it was exciting, but when I started knowing who he was, it became less and less fun. The more time I spent around him and the more trips we took, I started liking him less. He was very flirtatious with other women when we were out together and very chauvinistic at times. I would say something about corporate America or sexual harassment in the workplace, or something about men and women, and he would give me the impression that he thought the man was always right. When I got involved with a sexual harassment case, he said, ‘Are you sure you want to do that, because you’re going to lose your job.’ I said, ‘Yes, absolutely I do.’”
“There’s nothing earth-shattering about that,” said Wood. “It certainly sounds like someone who is a friend giving some advice.”
White first met Edward Buckley, an employment and civil rights lawyer, ten years ago, when he served as her attorney on a sexual and racial harassment suit in which she joined with two other plaintiffs who worked at an employment staffing company. Although Buckley is now representing White on a pro bono basis, he was paid for his work on the harassment case, which was ultimately settled. But the experience left White with a jaundiced view of the way women are treated in such situations, she said. “I was so exhausted by what I went through with the sexual harassment case,” she said. “You have to have a perfect background, a perfect life, to get someone to believe it if you accuse a powerful man of something like this.”
Buckley said he agreed. “Men are not judged nearly as harshly as women are; there’s the proverbial double standard,” he said. “There’s a lot of forgiveness for men, and there’s not a lot for women. For every man who’s been Teflonized and is able to brush this stuff off or bury it, there’s a woman who’s getting buried or getting flicked off of somebody’s suit like yesterday’s mud that’s dried in place. I think that the playing field needs to be a lot more level.”
Between Cain and White, the playing field apparently was never level, and White said she was realistic about her alleged status as his mistress. “I didn’t know, but I felt that I definitely was not the only one,” she said. “Honestly, I didn’t care about it. I didn’t think about it.”
“That’s just nonsense,” said Wood. “To me, that’s just an example of another accusation that’s speculation, and is not accurate. Mr. Cain certainly has had many friendships, with men and women, but any allegation that they were sexual is false.”
White said that over the years, her arrangement with Cain took an emotional toll. “One time we were having sex, and I was looking up at the ceiling, thinking about, ‘What am I going to buy at the grocery store tomorrow? What am I going to do with my kids tomorrow?’” she recalled. “One time after we had sex, I cried. He said, ‘Maybe we shouldn’t do this for a while.’ So maybe he did have a heart—or half a heart. But I knew I needed his financial help.”
Although White said her relationship with Cain spanned 13 years, she described it as intermittent; she stopped seeing him during her second and third marriages, each of which lasted around a year and a half and ended in divorce. “I never cheated on a husband,” she said. “I’m a very loyal person.
In between marriages, however, she turned to Cain for support, and he began giving her money early in their relationship, she said. “I didn’t ask, but he did understand my situation: I was getting divorced, and I had two small kids. He would send me extra cash and things like that,” she said. “When he first started, it was pretty sporadic, but the last 2 1/2 years, there was consistent financial help every month. It was ‘Here’s something to help with this; here’s something to help with that.’ I was appreciative of that. I said thank you, every time. But I think every time he had sex with me, he was getting a lot more than I was getting.”
“My understanding is that on the occasions when Mr. Cain sought to help her, he did it as a friend,” said Wood. “No good deed goes unpunished.”
White has held many jobs over the years, most of them in “recruiting and human resources, employee relations,” she said. “I was working and making my own money in my 20s. I never thought I would have to ask a man for money. I’m not sure why it’s worked out that way. I’ve had good jobs; I’ve been in positions where I made good money. But for the last 2 1/2 years I’ve been unemployed from corporate America. I stepped away from corporate America to start a cycling business, doing spin classes, but I found myself getting deeper and deeper in debt, and I went through what little savings I had. I said, ‘Herman, are you going to help me?’ And he did. I was very grateful.”
When the cycling business failed, White said, “I asked him if he could help me find a job, so he could stop the financial help. I didn’t want it any more, but I knew I needed it. His response was, ‘I just don’t know anybody.’ I think Herman helped me out financially because it meant I could be there if he ever needed to have another fling. He just kept me close. He knew that as long as he was helping me, if he wanted to phone me and say, ‘Meet me here,’ I would, solely out of obligation.”
When White went public with her account of her relationship with Cain, her lawyer released her phone records, which documented dozens of communications between her and Cain, including pre-dawn text messages. Nonetheless, said Wood, “There’s a lack of any factual evidence to support her account. She has no photographs, receipts, gifts or documentary evidence.”
White confessed that Cain wasn’t the only man who helped her financially; her work history and her sex life have long been intermingled in complex and contradictory ways, she said. “I have dealt with the problem of sexual harassment since I was 19—maybe not at such a severe level, but I’ve always dealt with it,” she said. “In my world, women are treated as if they were a piece of meat. The shorter your skirt was and the prettier you were, the more they wanted you in front of the client. You’d go home and feel like, ‘I couldn’t take enough showers to wash this filth off me.’ My job was to make sure people were being treated fairly; every day I was going to work to fight for this. Some of the men in higher positions didn’t like that, and they gave me so much pushback.”
But some also gave her money. “There are good men in corporate America, and there are bad men in corporate America, and those bad men take advantage of women in fragile situations—women who are struggling,” White said. “I’ve supported my kids, and I never wanted to let my kids go without. When I was having trouble making a payment on something, there was this powerful man saying, ‘I’ll help you out.’ I remember a time when I was looking for a job, and I became separated from my first husband, John, and somebody said, ‘All you have to do is get in front of the owner of this company, and he will give you a job, because you’re pretty. And he did. The owner offered me a job, and by the end of the day, he asked me out and said, ‘I can help you with some extra money.’ So that’s what happened, for probably six months or so. I wasn’t the only one he was ‘helping.’ And then I started getting promoted on my own, and shortly after that, I said, I want a change. When I first started seeing Herman Cain, I lived in Louisville, but within a year I got a job offer here in Atlanta. I told Herman and said, ‘I may need help getting there—will you help me?’ And he said yes.”
For White, getting men to supplement her income that way “started becoming a game,” she said. “It was easy for me to get help like that. It makes you a bit cold. You have to be just as clever as they are, just as cold as they are, just as calculating as they are—and sometimes beat them at their own game. But I don’t want to be depicted as a woman who sleeps with men for money. I am not that woman. There have been a lot of men who sensed vulnerability and dangled a carrot, but I am not a bad person. I am a loving mother who has always wanted to make her own way and give her kids the best. I never wanted to take a handout, and I’ve said no more times than I said yes. I’ve said no more times than you can write down.”
As White disclosed such details, however, her own lawyer was clearly concerned about her forthrightness. “The difference between her and a lot of other people is that she has been extraordinarily candid about it, to her own detriment,” Buckley said.
According to White, the relentless sexual pressures that followed her from job to job eventually motivated her to start the cycling business so she could work as a fitness instructor. “I felt really good, because I didn’t have to wear makeup and high heels and be looked at and have men drool,” she said. “I could go to work with no makeup and no heels, wearing workout clothes; I could go and make women feel they were beautiful just being themselves.”
But that business failed, and left White embroiled in litigation with a former business partner.
White’s troubled economic history also includes a bankruptcy filing 23 years ago, in Kentucky, and several eviction notices in Atlanta over the last six years. Her ongoing financial crises repeatedly led her to seek help from Cain, she said.
“I am determined to get my kids through college if it kills me, and one day I said, ‘I need a little extra money because my daughter’s art supplies are so expensive,’” said White, whose 20-year-old daughter is an art student. “Herman said, ‘I will help with the rent, I will help with food, but it’s not my responsibility to get your kids through college—and you may have to get rid of your dog.’ I said, ‘My dog?’ He said, ‘That’s an expense.’ That’s when I knew he was very cold.”
But White said that she and her children couldn’t bear to part with their Yorkshire terrier. “Some time later, Herman said, ‘Did you ever get rid of that dog?’ So I lied and said, ‘Yes, I gave it to my aunt,’” White said.
When asked whether Cain ever suggested that White get rid of her dog, Wood said, “I have no comment on that. It sounds like you’re describing a conversation friends could have.”
When Cain began to consider running for office, “I didn’t take it very seriously at all,” White said. “But Herman was on the radio, and the more popular he became, the more he talked about the possibility of running for president. Herman really enjoys the spotlight.”
White doesn’t have strong political views herself, although she doesn’t share Cain’s conservatism, she said. “I’m probably more liberal, but it changes. Sometimes I don’t know what I am,” she said. “It’s never been political with Herman and I. But all of a sudden, probably two months before he announced, he said, ‘I think I’m going to run for president.’ I said, ‘You’re running for president? I guess we won’t be friends anymore.’ He said, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ I guess I was wanting to define our friendship: Are we really friends, or is this just a very casual affair? He was pretty much confirming, ‘No, we won’t be friends.’ It just confirmed what I already felt. It wasn’t a love affair. It wasn’t even a friendship, really.”
After three failed marriages and the Cain disaster, White said she still hasn’t given up on the idea of finding someone to love. But one thing she’s determined to avoid from now on is taking money from a man she’s romantically involved with, she said.
“Now, when I need it the most, I feel like I definitely won’t do it again,” she said. “It doesn’t make you feel very good about yourself. It makes you feel like you’re not doing the right thing. It sucks, to be quite honest.”
Right now, what she really needs is a job, she said.