The Herman Cain harassment story just moved into X-rated territory.
A woman named Sharon Bialek, flanked by attorney Gloria Allred, said at a news conference Monday that the presidential candidate reached under her skirt and tried to push her head toward his crotch in a parked car in 1997. Bialek is a former staffer of the National Restaurant Association who says she was seeking to regain her job.
The Cain campaign immediately issued a statement declaring that “Mr. Cain has never harassed anyone” and dismissing what it called “bogus attacks.”
Bialek said she told two other people, one of them her boyfriend at the time, about the alleged groping, so corroborating witnesses could emerge. Allred says she has two such affidavits.
The spectacle, carried by CNN, adds what the weeklong media coverage has been conspicuously lacking: an accuser with a name and face, and a specific account of what Cain is alleged to have done. And Bialek’s account, if it is to be believed, goes far beyond remarks that some of the unnamed accusers have said made them uncomfortable, charging Cain with unwanted physical contact.
The sight of Cain’s latest accuser, whose flowing blonde hair dipped over one eye, not only personalizes what had been an abstract scandal but gives it an interracial aspect and places it firmly in an employment context.
According to Bialek, the two were having dinner when Cain informed her that he had upgraded her hotel room to what she described as a “palatial suite.” When she mentioned her boyfriend and said she wanted “my job back,” Cain said he would “look into that,” Bialik said.
While driving back from dinner, Cain said he would show her the restaurant association’s offices and parked down the block. Then, according to Bialek, he slid his hand “under my skirt and reached for my genitals. He also grabbed my head and brought it toward his crotch.”
When she protested, mentioning her boyfriend, Bialek says Cain replied: “You want a job, right?”
But then, she added, “I asked him to stop, and he did.” Bialek said she never filed any kind of complaint but wants the former pizza executive to acknowledge what he did: “Mr. Cain, I implore you—make this right.”
The news conference followed the first sign that the controversy is beginning to chip away at Cain’s standing in the polls. A Reuters/Ipsos survey found his favorability rating among Republicans slipping from 66 percent a week earlier to 57 percent. And a majority, 53 percent, believe the harassment allegations are true.
In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll out Monday, negative impressions of Cain among Republicans doubled, from 18 to 35 percent. At the same time, 54 percent of those responding said they aren’t concerned about voting for Cain despite the allegations.