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Cain forced to come out fighting after sex claims

Republican presidential hopeful hits out at detailed allegations of sexual misconduct

A defiant Herman Cain last night hit back at the charges by four former women work colleagues of sexual harassment, insisting he had "never acted inappropriately with anyone, period", and denouncing the "false and incorrect" allegations of his accusers.

"The charges and accusations I absolutely reject, they simply didn't happen," the Republican presidential candidate told a press conference in Phoenix, Arizona, 24 hours after Sharon Bialek accused him of groping her, during his years as head of the National Restaurant Association. "I repeat, they simply didn't happen."

In a statement released earlier, Mr Cain attacked Ms Bialek's credibility, accusing her of being a troublemaker and noting her past financial difficulties, suggesting that she had become the first of the four women to go public with her charges, in order to sell her story for money.

But the candidate's difficulties were compounded when another of the four accusers came forward, saying she was ready to go into detail about her experiences in the late 1990s when she was an employee of the restaurant group.

Karen Kraushaar, who now works at the Treasury Department, told The New York Times and The Washington Post, that she was thinking of a joint press conference, "where all of the women would be together with our attorneys and all of this evidence would be considered together".

At his press conference Mr Cain – who had initially seemed to treat the accusations lightly – declared time and again that sexual harassment was a serious issue, but that he had no recollection whatsoever of any of the alleged incidents, and even hinted he would be ready to undergo a lie detector test.

Nor had he any intention of pulling out of the race. "Ain't gonna happen," he said with his trademark bluntness. "Yes, it's been tough, but I'm Herman Cain," and he would see the controversy through. Instead he accused the "Democrat machine in America" of "bringing forth a troubled woman to make accusations".

Even so his improbable but thus far remarkably durable bid for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination seemed in real jeopardy last night, with one political betting site predicting that there was an even chance Mr Cain would be out of the race by the end of the year. Until now he seemed to be surviving unscathed, maintaining a lead in the polls alongside Mitt Romney, the favourite.

But Ms Bialek's charges, and the emergence of Ms Kraushaar change the equation. Indeed if the former's account of events after a night on the town on Washington is true, what happened was not merely sexual harassment but borderline sexual assault. Her charges essentially left him no choice but to confront her head on. But Ms Bialek hit back, insisting in a television interview yesterday that she had "nothing to gain" by coming forward. She was speaking out, she said, on behalf the other women who had trouble with Mr Cain. "It's not about me. I'm not running for President."