Cain's wife rallies to his defence after claims of sexual harassment

Gloria Cain is latest in a long line of political wives to face the media over a sex scandal

The wife of Herman Cain, the former pizza executive and candidate for the Republican nomination for President, has defended her husband against allegations from four women that he inappropriately propositioned them, insisting that he "totally respects women".

The remarks by Gloria Cain were to be aired last night on the Fox News Channel, a week after one of the accusers, Sharon Bialek, vividly described Mr Cain's alleged inappropriate behaviour towards her.

"To hear such graphic allegations and know that that would have been something that was totally disrespectful of her as a woman and I know that's not the person he is," Mrs Cain told Fox, according to transcripts.

The couple have been married for 43 years. Insisting that her husband "totally respects women," she added that he would have to have a "split personality" to do the things that Ms Bialek alleged.

How far Mr Cain's credibility can be repaired by recruiting the help of his wife is hard to predict. Many Republican supporters won't need persuading that he has been unfairly smeared. Others are likely to shrug and sigh because the tactic is so dog-eared if not actually tawdry.

Even first ladies of the United States have been cast in the role, going back to Jackie Kennedy who maintained the image of loving wife even as she privately despaired over the wandering eye of President John Kennedy, and then Hillary Clinton, who at first went on the offensive over reports of President Bill Clinton committing mischief with Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern, branding them a "vast right-wing conspiracy".

In 1992 when her husband was reaching for his party's nomination just as Mr Cain is now, Mrs Clinton appeared with her husband on television after reports of his dalliances with Jennifer Flowers, an ex-model. She nodded lovingly as he admitted their marriage had gone through challenges but was intact.

The humiliation of Mrs Cain – if that's what it is – may be of the mild sort compared with what some other political wives have gone through. Especially poignant was the attempt made by the late Elizabeth Edwards to defend her husband, John Edwards, over his liaisons with a videographer which sabotaged his quest for the Democratic nomination four years ago. He is now facing trial on charges of illegally using campaign funds to shield his mistress.

"This is a really good man who really did a very, very bad thing, but if you take that piece out, I do have a perfect marriage," Mrs Edwards told Oprah Winfrey. By early last year, the two had separated. She later died of cancer.

Some spouses have been summoned literally to stand by their men as they come to the microphones to confess. Eliot Spitzer, the former New York governor felled by evidence of his visiting prostitutes in Washington, did it to his wife in 2008, and so did James McGreevey, who resigned as governor of New Jersey four years earlier, admitting he was gay. The McGreeveys then went through an exceedingly messy divorce.

But when former New York congressman Anthony Weiner suffered public humiliation this summer for posting inappropriate images of himself online, his wife, Huma Abedin, steered clear of the public gaze, possibly after taking advice from her boss. Ms Abedin is an aide to the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

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