Iowans oddly unmoved by vague, 12-year-old allegations about Cain

For Herman Cain to win the Republican nomination, he has to win Iowa.  A loss there would almost certainly drain his campaign of credibility and donors before he could make it to South Carolina, especially if Mitt Romney ends up the winner in January 3rd’s caucuses.  So how are Iowa caucus goers reacting to the Politico story containing vague allegations of misconduct from more than a dozen years ago?  The Des Moines Register reports that they’re less than impressed … with Politico:

Iowa conservatives appear unready to jump off the Herman Cain train — unless damning evidence emerges that proves the presidential candidate was less than truthful Monday when he denied allegations of sexual harassment.

The Des Moines Register spoke by phone with more than 20 likely Republican caucusgoers who participated in the Oct. 23-26 Iowa Poll, and none said the allegations had moved them to reject Cain as a potential pick. …

Poll respondent Rick Hall, a Des Moines accountant, said, “Unless it rolls into something undeniably very bad at his core, it will have no effect on my feeling about Mr. Cain as far as a viable candidate. It happened far enough ago, I’m not surprised that this thing wouldn’t follow many highly placed corporate officers.”

Iowa conservative leaders, too, were willing Monday to give Cain the benefit of the doubt.

“He has to lay all his cards on the table now and tell all truthfully,” said Steve Scheffler, a West Des Moines Republican and president of the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition. “If there is nothing there, he will be fine with conservatives. If there is more, then there could be some real challenges for him.”

How did people around the nation react to the Politico story?  Well, the dollars tell the story:

Yesterday was Herman Cain’s biggest campaign fundraising day, the candidate told Laura Ingraham this morning on her radio show. …

About the fundraising news, Ingraham said: “What does that tell you? Don’t let the media set the message for you. He didn’t cancel anything on his schedule. He’s not a hermit. He’s not hiding behind some wall of privacy.” Clearly, she said, “People want a fighter. They see right through the media haze.”

Iowans are not abandoning Cain, and donors increased their support.  If that seems strange after such an explosive allegation, perhaps the assessment of ProPublica — an independent journalistic watchdog — might explain the dynamic:

It is clear from the story that Politico posted Sunday evening that reporters had made extensive efforts to figure out what happened. But much of what appeared came from anonymous sources whose knowledge appeared to be second-hand or unspecific.

Politico described the incidents involved “conversations allegedly filled with innuendo or personal questions of a sexually suggestive nature” that took place at conferences or other restaurant association events. One exchange, an unnamed source said, involved an invitation by Cain to an employee to meet him in his hotel suite at an event. There were also “physical gestures that were not overtly sexual but that made women who experienced or witnessed them uncomfortable and that they regarded as improper in a professional relationship.’’

Obviously, this description leaves open a myriad of possibilities, from the boorish to the legally actionable. Certainly, it prompts readers to scratch their heads as they try to remember what in the late 1990s constituted a physical gesture that was not overtly sexual but discomfiting. (I checked. The Macarena came out in the mid-1990s.) Suggestions from a boss to “meet in my suite” are equally ambiguous. Did Cain have a sheaf of strategy papers on the desk or a CD player with a Michael Bolton track cued up?

Therein is the problem with this story. If the facts as published were part of a memo to Politico’s editors, they would amount to a first-rate tip on a story. …

Were the settlements $99,999 each (to borrow some of Cain’s favorite numbers)? Or a buck more than $9,999?

The former would suggest, but not prove, that something seriously untoward had occurred. The latter would sound like what lawyers term nuisance settlements – the money corporations routinely shell out to make frivolous claims go away.

Over at CNBC, count Larry Kudlow as equally unimpressed:

“There were also descriptions of physical gestures that were not overtly sexual but that made women who experienced or witnessed them uncomfortable and that they regarded as improper in a professional relationship.”

What does this mean?

The gestures weren’t overtly sexual, but the women were uncomfortable and believed the gestures were improper in a professional relationship. These are all second-hand testimonies from “close associates” of the female accusers, but I don’t know what standards are being talked about.

I mean, based on this sort of thing, anybody could think anything about almost anything. I’m not blasting the Politico people per se. I just don’t understand the meaning of what they’re reporting.

What appears evident at this point is that Politico might have had a seed of a legitimate story, but only if they were able to get first-hand accounts with the necessary detail to show that Cain was actually guilty of misconduct.  They didn’t the first-hand accounts nor the details, not from Cain and not from the women involved.  Instead, they ran with the vague, second-hand related accounts from more than a decade gone by.  So far, that’s not impressing too many people, not Iowans, not Republicans, and not too many journalists, either.