Herman Cain’s Clintonesque Strategy

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Imagine this: A charismatic southern man is running for President, enjoying a surprising degree of success, when all of a sudden, women start coming out of the woodwork accusing him of sexual indiscretions. This candidate denies these accusations and his campaign begins to attack the women making them. Sound familiar? It’s Bill Clinton circa 1992.

As Herman Cain grapples with four charges of sexual misconduct dating back to the 1990s, the self-described frontrunner for the Republican nomination is taking a page from Clinton’s playbook. “Cain plans to deny all allegations–calling them misunderstandings, denounce the women and even more, the news media –always a popular target among Republicans– and ignore the whole controversy once denying and denouncing is done,” says Larry Sabato, head of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “This was the Clinton strategy for years.”

Cain, who is holding a press conference in Arizona this afternoon to address the allegations, has left no doubt he’s going to fight the accusations. “After attacking Herman Cain through anonymous accusers for a week, his opponents have now convinced a woman with a long history of severe financial difficulties, including personal bankruptcy, to falsely accuse the Republican frontrunner of events allegedly occurring well over a decade ago for which there is no record, nor even a complaint filed,” says J.D. Gordon, Cain’s spokesman.

Cain’s problem is three-fold. First, his credibility: Clinton had a much deeper political resume than Cain and had already been vetted as governor of Arkansas. The more women that come forward, the harder it will be for Cain to escape the issue and return to establishing his presidential bona fides. Second, however unseemly, there is a racial element to this in the south – just ask Harold Ford what happened to his campaign for Senate in Tennessee after a Republican group ran a commercial with a white woman cooing “Call me,” to Ford. Clinton never had to deal with racial tensions while making his defense. And third, Bill had Hillary standing next to him every step of the way, smoothing the ruffled feathers of women voters. Cain’s wife, for whatever reason, is choosing not to get involved in her husband’s campaign beyond written statements of support. And the one demographic Cain loses to Mitt Romney across the board is women. According to the latest CNN/TIME/ORC poll, Romney beat Cain in all four early primary states among women; in three of those states, Romney won women by double digits. And Cain also lags behind Romney and Texas governor Rick Perry in fundraising from women.

To be fair, Clinton’s strategy worked up until the Monica Lewinski scandal, which produced, for lack of a better word, hard evidence. Cain is betting that there are no blue dresses in his closet.