The fuse on the bomb that eventually blew up Herman Cain’s presidential ambitions in scandal was lit by the campaign of rival Republican Jon Huntsman, a new book reveals.
Cain, of McDonough, was leading in the Republican primary polls when Huntsman’s campaign leaked to Washington news outlet Politico that two women had accused Cain of sexual harassment in the 1990s when he ran the National Restaurant Association.
The account comes from the book “Double Down,” by journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, an insiders’ account of President Barack Obama’s re-election packed with juicy tidbits such as the source of the Cain leak.
Cain insisted – and still insists – all the claims were false, but his campaign soon became subsumed by allegations of sexual misconduct as more women came forward.
The National Restaurant Association story broke Oct. 30, 2011. By Dec. 3, Cain dropped out, the final blow coming from Ginger White of Dunwoody, who claimed a lengthy affair with the married Cain.
The former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, Cain was one of a series of candidates who swapped places atop the polls in 2011 as the GOP primary electorate bounced among flavors of the month other than eventual nominee Mitt Romney. Huntsman, the former governor of Utah and Obama’s ambassador to China, thought his turn might be next.
“After getting a tip from a donor, Huntsman’s researchers had dug into Cain’s past, discovered the first two sexual harassment claims, and fed the story to Politico,” the “Double Down” authors write. “Not that Cain was seen by Team Huntsman as a particular barrier to their man. But the Utahan’s people were increasingly desperate, looking for any opportunity to upend the prevailing dynamic.
“Also, their general attitude was: Any bullet left in the chamber is a bullet wasted.”
The authors report that Huntsman aides awaited the story’s publication with glee, as they “asked each other when the ‘high heel’ was going to drop on Cain.”
Cain responded Tuesday morning on his NewsTalk WSB radio show (WSB and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution are both operated by Cox Media Group).
“Jon Huntsman said I should drop out of the race,” Cain said. “Maybe it has something to do with the fact that after the (Presidency 5 straw poll) vote in Florida is when my campaign took off and I moved to the top of the polls.
“By the way it is a fact, it is a fact that in that P5 vote in Florida that really energized the Herman Cain campaign, Jon Huntsman came in dead last and Herman Cain came in first place by a long shot. That is a fact.”
Huntsman actually finished second-to-last among eight candidates in the September straw poll vote. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota trailed the field.
Huntsman never got his moment in the sun, dropping out after a poor showing in the New Hampshire primary. The “Double Down” authors also report Huntsman’s campaign was behind a leak intended to damage then-Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels as he was considering a run.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.