Urbandale, Iowa — Outside the Iowa headquarters for Herman Cain’s campaign, all is quiet on Friday afternoon. A large Cain 2012 banner hangs in the center of the office’s brick façade, and Cain 2012 signs paper the windows. There is no hint of the bedlam that surrounded the candidate himself all week as he struggled to defend and explain himself in light of the revelation that he was accused of sexual harassment during his time heading the National Restaurant Association.
Inside the headquarters, a couple of volunteers are making calls. Photos of Cain greeting supporters adorn the front hall, while a large, framed Declaration of Independence hangs in the main room. Along with the usual campaign paraphernalia, ample copies of Cain’s Democrat-bashing 2005 book, They Think You’re Stupid, are scattered around. Later, I find out the absence of This is Herman Cain! (I notice only one copy) is because supporters are asked to donate to the campaign in order to receive a copy (the headquarters has a limited supply), but if the books are left around, volunteers will just pocket one.
As I am talking to one of the volunteers, there is the first hint of the controversy that has embroiled the campaign. Cain’s Iowa director, Larry Tuel, strolls over and introduces himself; after I tell him I’m with National Review, he remarks, “It’s a good publication. I think it’s a little more normal than let’s say — oh, let me think — Politico, for example. You get some facts before you publish, don’t you?”
Later on, in Tuel’s office (on the side of the facility closest to the Michele Bachmann campaign’s Iowa headquarters, which is directly across the small street), he explains his frustration with the media. “This story’s been known about,” he says. “It’s not like this just popped up. I know reporters that have known about it for weeks and weeks. And all of a sudden when Mr. Cain gets to the top of the polls, ahead of Romney — 29–23 in one — then the story breaks. The timing, to me, is odd.”
“I think Politico has known about it for a while, and I think others have known about it,” he continues. “People have known about this for several weeks.” Tuel, who sports a tie featuring vintage presidential-campaign buttons and a “Raising Cain in ’12” pin, says the feedback he’s hearing from Iowans is positive. “The reaction is, they’re all behind Mr. Cain. And they think there’s a lot more to the genesis of this story and how it has come to light than what’s being reported,” he comments.
In a phone interview, Steve Grubbs, Cain’s Iowa chairman, stresses that the campaign has not faced any backlash. “Some people want us to explain what’s going on,” he says. “We don’t have people calling in to the office saying, ‘Take my name off the list.’”
The week before the allegations broke, the campaign had been signing up 25 to 30 precinct captains per day for the upcoming Iowa caucus. This week, they’ve signed up 40 to 50 people a day.
“Most supporters are angry,” Grubbs says. “They feel like this is largely trumped up, an allegation from unnamed sources which occurred almost 15 years ago. And, so, they’re more motivated than ever.”
Dick Pipho, a Cain volunteer who estimates that he spends about eight hours a week working for the campaign, tells me that the people he calls “know all this stuff is garbage.”
“I’ve been in business,” he says. “I’ve had females working for me. I know the sensitivity. I know that any irate woman can totally destroy a man, just like that.” He notes that the allegations against Cain have concerned verbal statements, not physical actions. “A woman can always say no, you know? So suck it up and quit being a crybaby.”
At the Reagan dinner that night in Des Moines, where five of the presidential contenders — but not Cain — are speaking to the hundreds of Iowa Republicans gathered, the attitude toward the Cain allegations is mixed. Dana Petrowsky, an executive who lives in Des Moines, compares Cain to Clarence Thomas. “I think the Washington machine that’s constantly working on all these scandals just to keep the news cycle going is the problem,” she remarks. Asked if she would still consider voting for Cain, she responds, “Oh, of course.”
Sharon Darin, from Ames, is a little more skeptical — although she, too, would be willing to vote for Cain at this point. “I think women might rethink what they were thinking,” she reflects. “I’ve watched him for a long time, like on [Fox News’s] Neil Cavuto, and I’ve liked him for a long time. But I don’t know. We’ll see what happens.”
Des Moines chiropractor Mark Gvist had been leaning toward Cain but was impressed enough by Rick Santorum’s speech at the Reagan dinner to decide to give him a “more serious” look. He says he’s giving Cain the “benefit of the doubt” on the allegations for now, although he would like Cain to urge that the women be permitted to break the confidentiality agreements. “I think he needs to handle it better,” Gvist remarks. “I think he needs to be forthright, just lay it on the line, have his accusers come out and confront it, and get it behind him.”
Earlene Nordstrom, a retiree from Fort Dodge, Iowa, characterizes her attitude at the moment as “just listening.” “Probably didn’t amount to as much as they’re blowing it up to be,” she says, noting she’s looking forward to hearing Cain speak. When I tell her Cain isn’t slated to speak, she gives me such an acutely disappointed look that a bystander would be forgiven for thinking I had just said Obamacare would never be repealed. Nordstrom has seen Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, but Cain is one candidate she has never come across in person.
Cain isn’t committed to another Iowa visit until November 19, despite the fact that the caucuses are only two months away. Iowans joke that they can’t judge a candidate they’ve only met twice, but it’s not entirely a joke. The relative infrequency of Cain’s trips to the state hasn’t gone unnoticed. When I speak to Tuel about these concerns, he points out that Cain is not exactly a stranger to the state: He has done 63 events this year in Iowa. And Cain has another connection to the state. “There’s Godfather’s Pizza franchise owners all over Iowa that know Herman Cain personally,” Tuel points out. It doesn’t hurt, either, that Cain lived for years in nearby Omaha, Neb.
Most of the main room in the Cain headquarters is covered with schedules for volunteers making calls. (Except on Thanksgiving, when someone has scrawled over the calendar, “No calling. Happy Thanksgiving. Gobble. Gobble. God Bless.”) And there are two posters that offer specific injunctions for Cain campaigners. The first, titled “Mature Leadership and Common Sense Guiding Principles,” lists twelve campaign axioms, among them “1. Do what’s right,” “4. Success is your choice,” and “11. When Congress feels the heat, they will see the light.” The second poster, headlined “Cainisms,” includes these injunctions: “Work on the right problem,” and “Communicate, communicate, communicate.” The final two “Cainisms” might best explain the campaign’s calm, cool attitude this week. “No whining” is one, and the other is: “Have fun.”
Grubbs is taking a long-term outlook, noting that other successful campaigns have had rocky stretches, such as the firestorm that hit Barack Obama over Jeremiah Wright and the John McCain campaign’s woes during the summer of 2007. The Cain campaign, too, will survive, he believes.
“So far,” Grubbs muses, “I would feel like Herman Cain is weathering the storm.”
— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.