Cain Gets the Benefit of the Doubt -- For Now

Nov 10, 2011

Questions continue about Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain and allegations of sexual harassment.  Just as  those reports first surfaced about two weeks ago, NHPR sat down with a group of Republican voters in Dover. 

The focus was on the candidates and the primary.  The issue of Cain’s relations with women was not on the table and three of the participants spoke highly of Herman Cain.  We got back in touch to see what they think now.

On October 31st, Brian Albertelli was ready to say, if the election were held today, Cain would be his pick.

“I move toward Herman Cain, only because he’s the only guy out there to come out with a tax plan.  Whether you like it or not, it is a tax plan and it completely changes the system we got.”

Albertelli works at a manufacturing plant and likes Cain’s bold approach to government.  Abby Sykas, a Dover lawyer, was not quite as enthusiastic a supporter, but Cain was one of her top two and she definitely saw qualities in Cain that she thinks the country could use.

“ He’s willing to be creative and I think we need creativity, we need some break out of the mold a little bit.  I also like how approachable and real he seems.”

Another voter, college teacher Bob Jaffin, was similarly impressed with Cain. 

And where is Jaffin now?

“It has no impact at this point in time.”

Jaffin  simply has not seen or heard enough facts.

“It’s too inconclusive and too many questions raised for me to give it any credence or allow it to affect  my current position.”

When it comes to knowing the truth of what happened, if anything happened, between Herman Cain and these women, all three voters we spoke to find themselves in the same boat.  They don’t know the truth.  To varying degrees, they could believe that the accusations of harassment might be exaggerated or even fabricated.

More than any of them, Albertelli sees the hand of politics.

“ I think there’s people trying to take him down.  I agree with a lot of people  that have brought up the fact that this just happens to conservative people.”

But if these voters are ready to give Cain the benefit of the doubt, this matter clearly taints how they look at him.  Sykas says, she can no longer think about Cain as she did before. 

“ Now, I am forced to have questioned in a way that I wouldn’t have otherwise, Mr. Cain’s honesty, and his integrity and his character, for lack of a better word.  Because that’s not something I would have questioned before .  Not this way. ”

We’ve heard a lot in the past week about the court of public opinion, but it would be a mistake to think that applies just to Herman Cain’s behavior 15 years ago.  For Jaffin, the question is less what Cain did then, and more how he has handled himself today.   And in that respect, Cain’s reputation is balanced on the edge.

“I will have to judge the veracity of the claims. And if I find there’s enough truth behind them, he’s toast to me.  Because that means he’s lying.”

Even if these individual voters decide that they can trust Cain, he runs another risk that could cost him their support.  This is not the first primary for any of these people.  Albertelli for one, wants his vote to matter and he WILL be watching that gauge of the court of public opinion, the polls.

“ If he falls down to fifth place and there’s still no evidence, it’s just he’s been destroyed.  And there’s no way he’s going to win the nomination and there’s no way he’s going to win the presidency, then obviously, I’ve got to start looking somewhere else.  Because I want the right guy, but I also want to win.”

There is a word two of these voters used when asked about Herman Cain.  That word is YET, as in, my opinion hasn’t changed, yet. 

Which leaves open the possibility that it will.

video credit: Ryan Hutton/ Boston University