WASHINGTON | Mon Nov 28, 2011 8:06pm EST
(Reuters) – A woman accused Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain on Monday of having a 13-year affair with her that ended just months ago, a new charge that could derail his campaign for the White House.
Cain, already hit by allegations of sexual harassment, denied an affair but he addressed the idea of giving up his presidential bid for the first time.
Until recently a front-runner among Republicans seeking to challenge President Barack Obama, Cain said he would stay in the race as long as his wife stood by him.
The woman, Ginger White, told a local Atlanta television station that the on-and-off affair began in the mid 1990s. She said he flew her to different locations for secret meetings.
“It was pretty simple,” White told the Fox Network station in Atlanta. “It wasn’t complicated. I was aware that he was married. And I was also aware I was involved in a very inappropriate situation, relationship.”
Earlier charges of sexual harassment by four women, coupled with campaign gaffes, helped knock Cain out of the top of the Republican presidential race, leaving a void that has now been filled by former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Republican strategist Ed Rollins said the latest allegation could be fatal to the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO’s presidential ambitions.
“I think it’s the final nail in the coffin,’ he said. “I think he was going down pretty fast anyway.”
“With five weeks to go before voters start participating, it’s not a good place to start reinvigorating your campaign,” he said, referring to early Republican electoral contests which begin in January in Iowa.
Cain in a CNN interview called White a “friend,” and said he had nothing to hide and that he is staying in the race.
But asked if he would drop out of the campaign due to the stream of allegations, Cain said: “I would make that decision depending on the circumstances and how it is impacting my wife and my family.”
“I’m not dropping out of this race, no. As long as my wife is behind me,” he said.
CELL PHONE RECORDS
The case differs from prior claims in that the woman is claiming a consensual long-term relationship.
White said the two met at a presentation Cain gave for the National Restaurant Association in Kentucky, and afterward the two had drinks. Cain invited her back to his hotel, she said, and the relationship took off.
The woman provided cell phone bills showing calls to a number she said was Cain’s personal mobile phone. A reporter for the station called that number and reached Cain, he said.
The television station said White had accused a prior employer of sexual harassment and had been served with an eviction notice in recent years.
She came forward because an acquaintance of hers had been telling the story to other reporters, the station said.
Cain’s lawyer Lin Wood told the station it “appears to be an accusation of private, alleged consensual conduct between adults – a subject matter which is not a proper subject of inquiry by the media or the public.”