ATLANTA (AP) — Herman Cain is still campaigning for president. But by most measures, his White House bid is all but over.
His standing in polls is cratering. Supporters are wavering if not fleeing. Fundraising is suffering.
And, these days, the former pizza company executive is less a serious candidate than the butt of late-night comedy jokes after a string of accusations of sexually inappropriate behavior and, now, an allegation of a 13-yearlong extramarital affair.
“His chance at winning the presidency are effectively zero,” said Dave Welch, a Republican strategist who worked on both of John McCain’s presidential bids.
And Republican strategist Kellyanne Conway said: “It’s the daily dose of the wince-and-cringe factor that leaves people wondering what could be coming next,”
As it has since Ginger White stepped forward Monday, the allegation of an affair overshadowed Cain’s campaign for another day Thursday, when he told the New Hampshire Union Leader that his wife, Gloria, did not know he was providing the 46-year-old Atlanta-area businesswoman with money for “month-to-month bills and expenses.”
And, Cain said, his wife also didn’t know of what he called a friendship with White until she said publicly that she had a casual 13-year affair with Cain that ended about eight months ago.
White returned to television herself, telling MSNBC in an interview Thursday night that she was “deeply sorry” for causing Cain’s wife or other members of his family any pain.
“My heart bleeds for this woman because I am a woman and being in a situation like this cannot be fun. And I am deeply, deeply sorry if I have caused any hurt to her and to his kids, to his family,” she said.
White said the affair was never about love and that Cain never said he loved her.
“Nor did I tell him that I loved him,” she said. “It wasn’t a love affair. It was a sexual affair, as hard as that is for me to say and as hard as it is for people to hear it. You know, it pretty much is what it is. And that’s what it was.”
On Fox News Thursday night, Cain said he will make a decision on the future of his campaign before Monday. One option would be to continue his bid “full steam ahead” and another would be to suspend the effort. Viability will be a key consideration.
“This whole series of accusations is going to leave a little cloud of doubt in a lot of people’s minds for a long, long time,” he said.
It is the latest chapter in a saga that has played out in recent weeks as his campaign has been rocked first with allegations of sexual harassment and, now, White’s affair claim.
Even before all that surfaced, Cain faced steep hurdles to the nomination. He didn’t have much of a campaign organization. He was spending more time on a book tour than in early primary and caucus states. And he was facing doubts about whether he was ready for the presidency, given a series of fumbles on policy questions.
Over the past month, Cain has watched his standing in polls sink. He acknowledged his fundraising took a hit after White came forward, and political experts predict that his ability to take in campaign cash will evaporate now that he is re-evaluating whether to remain in the race. If he decides to continue running, Cain would face another big hurdle: the loss of grassroots support, which has provided the core of his base for his anti-establishment campaign.
Atlanta Tea Party Patriots co-founder Debbie Dooley typifies the falloff of support. She had been vigorously defending Cain as the sexual harassment allegations trickled out. But White’s accusation proved too much. On Thursday, White’s attorney released more cell phone billing records showing that Cain and White had dialed each other 10 times from June 18 to Nov. 18.
The pair also exchanged 226 text messages, including 58 that Cain sent to White. Cain’s attorney, Lin Wood, said some of the messages are White asking for help paying for her rent, gasoline and car tags.
“I don’t know what to believe,” Dooley said. “I just think he needs to get out now and focus on his family.”
Charlie Gruchow, one of Cain’s earliest and most devout supporters in Iowa, has said he has moved his support to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, because he doesn’t think Cain can survive politically.
“I still don’t believe all the allegations,” he said. “But it’s really damaged him.”
Even Cain’s supporters acknowledge his odds have grown even steeper with a cloud planted over his campaign and just weeks before voting gets under way in Iowa.
“I’m still backing him, but I definitely think it’s a bigger and bigger mountain to climb,” Florida state Rep. Carlos Trujillo said Tuesday, the day after White emerged. “It’s going to be difficult to make up that ground in so short an amount of time.”
Cain has said he is reassessing and re-evaluating whether to remain in the race and will only make that decision after speaking face-to-face with his wife of 42 years.
The candidate is expected back in his home state of Georgia after campaign stop in South Carolina Friday afternoon and will presumably talk with his wife then. His campaign wouldn’t provide details.
He has canceled a Friday night event at the Atlanta Athletic Club.
“We’ve postponed it while he revaluates,” organizer Gil Bell said.
But Georgia state Sen. Josh McKoon, a supporter, said the planned opening of a campaign headquarters in Atlanta was still on.
“Without a doubt,” McKoon said.
Cain was keeping up a busy schedule. After visiting New Hampshire, Cain spoke Thursday night at the business school of Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, focusing his remarks on his business career and making no mention of White’s accusation or the fate of his candidacy. He was set to headline a campaign event Friday afternoon in Rock Hill, S.C.
Hecklers interrupted Cain at Middle Tennessee State. One man shouted, “Sexual abuse is unacceptable” while others chanted, “We are the 99 percent,” the slogan of the Occupy Wall Street protests.
“We have freedom of speech. Some people simply abuse it,” Cain said after the protesters left. “That’s why I didn’t get rattled.”
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