Tempers frayed, and confusion grew, yesterday over the sexual harassment allegations against the Republican presidential frontrunner Herman Cain, as the candidate clashed with reporters and one of the two women involved indicated she wanted to go public with her version of what happened.
Making the rounds yesterday among Republican lawmakers and professional groups in the US capital, Mr Cain again tried to focus on policy issues, brushing off the accusations, and insisting he was victim of people who were "trying to destroy me personally".
But after addressing a meeting of doctors in a Washington suburb, he was confronted by a throng of reporters and his patience ran out. "I'm here with these doctors, don't bother to ask these other questions," snapped the normally easy-going candidate. "What part of 'No' do you people not understand?"
So far the affair has had little impact on the race. But the confusion will continue until exact details are known of the incidents, during Mr Cain's tenure as head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s. That may happen soon, if one of the women persuades the body to waive a confidentiality agreement that was part of her settlement.
Mr Cain's own accounts of events have been vague. On Monday, the day the controversy broke in earnest, he said he joked with one woman about her height, comparing her to his wife. But he has been quiet about the encounter with the other woman who, according to The New York Times, received a $35,000 (£22,000) payment.
The paper claimed the incident took place during an outing where there had been heavy drinking, citing four people who knew of the encounter at the time. But these sources provided no further details, apparently to protect the woman's privacy, the Times said.
The allegations are the first serious challenge faced by Mr Cain since his surge to the top of the Republican field alongside former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, and the conventional wisdom has been that his erratic handling of the controversy will torpedo his campaign. But Mr Cain, whose appeal lies precisely in the fact that he is not a career politician, is not a conventional candidate. And there some signs that – assuming the incidents are not too shocking – he might even benefit from it.
Mark Block, his campaign manager, said $400,000 of contributions had poured in since Monday, while a snap poll by the The Des Moines Register, a paper in Iowa whose caucuses kick off the primary season, found voters were unmoved by the fuss. "A force is at work that's much greater," said Mr Cain. "That force is called the voice of the people."
Complicating the picture further is race. Americans for Herman Cain, a support group for the candidate, accused his foes of conducting a "high-tech lynching" by smears, "just like they did for Clarence Thomas". The reference is to the Supreme Court Justice, like Mr Cain an African American, who came within an ace of being rejectedin 1991 amid allegations of sexual harassment by Anita Hill, a former colleague.Reuse content