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Nov. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain said yesterday he still suspects Texas Governor Rick Perry’s campaign is responsible for reviving sexual harassment allegations made against him in the 1990s, even after a denial by one of the businessman’s top aides.
“Let’s just say, there aren’t enough breadcrumbs that we can lay down that leads us anywhere else at this point,” Cain said when asked on Sean Hannity’s talk radio show if he thought Perry’s campaign peddled the allegations to reporters.
Perry, in an interview on CNN yesterday, said his campaign had nothing to do with the leak. He said any employee would be “out the door” if that wasn’t the case.
Earlier yesterday, Cain campaign manager Mark Block said on Fox News that he accepted the denial of Perry strategist Curt Anderson, who Cain previously accused of leaking the story that at least two women had accused him of harassment.
“All the evidence we had pointed to Mr. Anderson being the source,” Block said on Fox News. “We are absolutely thrilled that he came on your show said it wasn’t him. Mr. Cain has always had the utmost respect for him.”
Cain’s personal life has come under scrutiny as he has emerged as a top-tier contender for the 2012 Republican nomination, with some surveys placing him ahead of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in the race. The harassment issue could slow his momentum.
The allegations stem from his 1996-99 tenure as chief executive officer of the National Restaurant Association. Financial settlements were reached with two women who made the claims, and the agreements included confidentiality restrictions.
Joel Bennett, a Washington-based lawyer for one of the accusers, said he sent a request yesterday to the restaurant association’s lawyer to free his client from the agreement.
If the association agrees, Bennett plans to release a public statement on behalf of his client, who would remain anonymous.
“She’s a private person and she wants to move on with her life,” he said. “She has no desire to be a public figure.”
Sue Hensley, senior vice president for public affairs at the organization, said her group would respond to the request today.
Cain, 65, told Hannity that Bennett is trying to profit from the situation.
“He’s out there trying to stir up some stuff because he’s out there trying to get famous and make some money,” he said.
A Republican pollster who worked for the restaurant association said earlier this week that Cain sexually harassed a low-level staffer he described as about two years out of college at a restaurant in Arlington, Virginia.
“Everybody was aware of it,” said Chris Wilson, a principal of an Oklahoma-based political consulting firm that is working for a group supporting the Perry campaign, in an interview with KTOK radio in Oklahoma City. “So many people were aware of her situation, the fact she left. Everybody knew with the campaign that this would eventually come up.”
Wilson declined to offer further details to Bloomberg News about the incident, though he did say he didn’t leak the story to the media.
Cain, in his Hannity interview, denied Wilson’s harassment claim. “For him to say stuff like that, there again, where’s the documentation?” Cain said. “Where’s the proof? They don’t have any.”
Cain has offered conflicting answers to questions about the allegations. In a speech at the National Press Club on Oct. 31, he said he was unaware of any financial settlement of sexual harassment claims against him. On Nov. 1, Cain told CNN that the association paid a woman “somewhere in the vicinity of three to six months’ pay” after she complained about him.
Former employees say the organization paid one female staffer a year’s salary -- $35,000 -- in severance after she complained about Cain’s behavior. The second woman, now a spokeswoman for a federal agency in Washington, received $45,000, according to a report yesterday by Politico.
“I don’t pay women compliments, unless I know them well enough that they’re not going to take it the wrong way,” Cain said on the Hannity program. “I didn’t say that she looked hot or whatever this sort of thing.”
Perry, campaigning in Iowa yesterday, declined to answer a question on whether Cain owed him an apology over the harassment issue. And, as he met employees at Pioneer Hi-Bred, a unit of DuPont Co., in Johnston, Iowa, he focused on his own campaign message.
“Are you better off today than you were four trillion dollars ago?” Perry said, a reference for federal spending that he has vowed to cut.
The company is the world’s leading developer and supplier of advanced plant genetics and provides seeds to farmers in more than 90 countries. It employs about 3,200 in Iowa.
Perry, 61, who is running television and radio ads in Iowa, is trying to gain ground in a state that is crucial to the future of his candidacy.
An Iowa Poll, conducted by the Des Moines Register and released Oct. 29, showed Perry with the support of 7 percent of likely participants in the state Jan. 3 caucuses, which start the nomination process. Perry was tied in the survey for fifth place with former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia.
Romney and Cain were in a statistical tie for the lead in the poll, although the survey was taken before stories about sexual harassment complaints surfaced.
Also ahead of Perry in the poll were U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas, at 12 percent, and Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota at 8 percent.
Bachmann, in a speech yesterday at Iowa State University in Ames, called for all Americans to pay at least some federal income taxes. The proposal seeks to contrast her with Perry and Cain, whose tax plans would allow some low-income Americans to continue to pay no federal taxes.
Romney appears to be increasing his campaign presence in Iowa, after spending most of this year signaling a less-than- all-out effort to win the caucuses.
He is scheduled to make two campaign stops next week in eastern Iowa, less than three weeks after he was last in the state. It will be Romney’s fourth visit to Iowa this year.
--With assistance from Seth Stern in Washington. Editors: Don Frederick, Jim Rubin.
To contact the reporters on this story: Lisa Lerer in Washington at email@example.com; John McCormick in Johnston, Iowa at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at email@example.com