Political Notebook: Support for Cain steady among Howard Republicans, despite harassment allegations

When Herman Cain spoke at the Howard County Republican Central Committee Lincoln Day Dinner in June, he was just starting to make a name for himself as a 2012 Republican presidential candidate.

Cain has since vaulted to the top of the GOP candidate list in polls, winning support from many Howard County Republicans. And while some local Republican leaders say the effect of the recent allegations of sexual harassment by Cain remains to be seen, others say his support here has not waned, despite the allegations.

"It has absolutely not affected his support, and I don't believe it will," Maryland director of the Cain campaign Karen Winterling said in an interview Tuesday, Nov. 8. "I think people see this for what it really is … dirty politics."

Some county GOP leaders say the effect the allegations will have on Cain's campaign is uncertain.

"Generally, I still think people are kind of waiting for this thing to play out to take a stance," Howard County Republican Club President Jeff Robinson said Tuesday.

Loretta Shields, chairwoman of the Howard County Republican Party, agreed. She said she thinks Cain supporters "want to wait it out and understand, especially with some of these things being so long ago."

Cain, a black businessman best known as the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, has received plenty of media attention since Politico reported on Oct. 31 that he was accused of sexually harassing two female employees when he served as the Head of the National Restaurant Association in the late 1990s.

More allegations later surfaced, which Cain initially ignored but emphatically denied Tuesday at a news conference in Phoenix.

Though unsolicited and unwarranted, the attention Cain has received as a result of the allegations has promoted his campaign in some ways, Winterling said.

"It's boosting his fundraising; it's boosting his volunteers," she said. "People are very disappointed that this is happening. They're not going to let him be treated this way."

Cain has more than 800 campaign volunteers in the state of Maryland, a number Winterling said is continually growing.

"Just in the county, we have well over 100 volunteers," she said. "We've got plenty of support … it's growing like crazy."

Cain, Gingrich tie in caucus

The support for Cain was evident two weeks ago, when Cain tied with Newt Gingrich for votes in a Howard County Republican Club straw poll, held as a presidential caucus. The event was aimed to build excitement leading into the 2012 presidential primaries, which kick off in two months with the Iowa caucuses.

The Republican Club's mock caucus drew nearly 100 people, many wearing Cain T-shirts and holding Cain signs. Instead of the actual candidates, the club had representatives from their campaigns give short speeches. Winterling, a former Howard County Republican Club president, spoke for Cain.

After all the representatives gave passionate three-minute speeches about their candidates, the crowd dispersed into groups, gathering in a section of the VFW in Ellicott City designated for the candidate they decided to support. Nearly one-third of the room flocked to the designated Cain area.

A handful of undecided voters remained in the middle of the room, as supporters for the different candidates descended upon them to convince them to join their side.

In the initial tally, Newt Gingrich supporters narrowly outnumbered Cain supporters, 14 to 13. Mitt Romney had 11 supporters and remained in the contest.

With only three supporters and two supporters respectively, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum were eliminated, along with the several candidates who received no support. Those five voters had to find a new candidate to get behind.

A Gingrich supporter and a Cain supporter spent about 10 minutes arguing back and forth to sway an undecided voter named Bill.

"My head says Gingrich. My heart says Cain. I'm going with the heart on this one," he said, as he walked over to the Cain camp.

But it wasn't enough for Cain to pull out a win. The final tally revealed a tie between Gingrich and Cain, both with 16 votes. Romney trailed with 11.

Though the Cain supporters didn't walk away with a clear win in the mock caucus, they left with a renewed energy for their candidate — and a few new allies for an organized group of Howard County Cain campaign volunteers.

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