By Justin Sink - 11/30/11 01:30 AM EST
There were growing signs Tuesday that Herman Cain’s beleaguered presidential campaign could be drawing toward a close.
The former restaurant executive told supporters that he is reassessing “where we stand” in the race for the White House amid new allegations of a 13-year extramarital affair with an Atlanta businesswoman.
He also acknowledged the recent report “had taken a toll on my wife and family, as you would imagine.”
Those comments, along with his slide in the polls, have triggered speculation that Cain, who survived a slew of allegations about sexually inappropriate behavior, might finally have to throw in the towel.
Cain said, for now, the plan is to “plow ahead.”
“That’s what we do in our house on Sunday, I sit in the easy chair and [my wife] prepares dinner!” he said.
He also dismissed reports his campaign is in trouble.
“9-9-9. 9-9-9. We’re doing fine,” Cain said on his way to the speech in reference to his tax plan, according to MSNBC.
And his campaign team tweeted prior to the speech: “The definition of reassess is: To consider again, esp. while paying attention to new factors. Doesn’t sound like dropping out.”
But on a conference call Tuesday morning with about 90 supporters, Cain said he was concerned that accusations of the affair would “create too much of a cloud in some people’s minds as to whether or not they should support us going forward.”
Ginger White, an Atlanta businesswoman, claimed Monday that she and Cain had engaged in a prolonged affair during which Cain would fly her across the country and lavish her with gifts and expensive dinners. Cain denied the story that same day in an interview with CNN, although White provided Fox 5 Atlanta, which broke her story, with phone and text-messaging records that detail dozens of correspondences — some very late at night — between White and Cain.
Cain said Monday that he would not consider dropping out of the Republican race unless his family indicated they wanted him to leave the campaign.
“As long as my wife is behind me, and as long as my wife believes that I should stay in this race, I’m staying in this race, because I am sick and tired of the hurt and harm that somebody out there is doing to my family, more so to me, with these baseless charges,” he said on CNN.
But while repeated allegations of sexual impropriety are undoubtedly taking a toll on Cain’s family, they are also battering his campaign, which has experienced a precipitous fall from grace in the national polls — and an inability to move the message back to policy.
A Quinnipiac poll released last week found Cain in third place with 14 percent of support among Republican voters — less than half the 30 percent he was garnering just a month earlier. Meanwhile, Cain’s conservative base seems to be coalescing around former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), who led in the recent Quinnipiac survey.
Cain supporters might be primed to jump ship to the new front-runner, with a Public Policy Poll showing that 73 percent have a favorable view of the former Speaker, and that Gingrich would be the second choice of a substantial plurality of those planning to vote for Cain.
Two New Hampshire state representatives who had been supporting Cain did just that Tuesday, telling WMUR that they were defecting to Gingrich because they were upset over how Cain had handled the scandal.
“To me, the lying is the worst thing,” state Rep. William Panek said to the television station. “People make bad decisions all the time, but tell me the truth and I might still support you, but don’t lie to me and make me look like a fool.”
Cain acknowledged the potential for defections during his conference call Tuesday, saying that the campaign had to measure how much support remained after the latest wave of allegations.
“Any time you put another cloud of doubt, unfortunately, in the court of public opinion, you’re guilty until proven innocent,” Cain said. “The public is going to have to decide whether they believe her or whether they believe me. That’s why we’re going to give it time, to see what type of response we get from our supporters.”
Some of Cain’s Republicans rivals seemed to gently imply that he — and the party — would be better served leaving the race.
“Given the bandwidth that has been taken out of the discussion of any other issues pertinent to this campaign, a reconsideration might be in order,” Jon Huntsman said Tuesday, according to The Boston Globe.
“You’ve got to be reconsidering just based on how we have lost focus on the issues that really do matter,” Huntsman said. “Every time another accusation comes up, it diminishes our ability to stay focused on the issues that really do matter for the American people. And I think that’s a disservice to the voters.”
Michele Bachmann told the WHO radio station in Iowa that “I think that [Cain and his staff] recognize that the support has really dropped out of their campaign because of those questions.”
But for now, Cain’s campaign seemed poised to press forward.
“If a decision is made, different than, ‘We should plow ahead,’ you all will be the first to know,” Cain said on the call.
“We are going to reassess things over the next several days and we will contact you over the next several days and let you know, positive, negative, whatever the case may be. But as I said, I’m going to continue [my] schedule as planned,” he added.
Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon also downplayed the significance of Cain’s “reassessment” comments.
“It’s a reassessment of where we stand and the road ahead, similar to other times in the campaign’s history,” Gordon said in a statement.
Cain implied that the campaign re-evaluated its situation after every major event.
“During the summer we had to make some reassessments based upon our financial situation. We were able to hang in there; we reassessed the situation and kept on going,” Cain said. “We also did a reassessment after the Iowa straw poll and we made another reassessment after the Florida straw poll. When the previous two accusations, false accusations, came about, we made another assessment.
The story was first reported by the National Review, which provided a transcript of the call to supporters.
— Daniel Strauss and Alicia M. Cohn contributed to this report.