Acknowledging that "the bull's-eye on my back has gotten bigger," GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain on Monday denied that he had engaged in sexual harassment when he headed the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s.
But Cain confirmed that he had been "accused," and branded the allegations reported in a Politico story over the weekend "totally baseless and totally false."
"In my over 40 years of running businesses and corporations, I have never sexually harassed anyone," he told an audience at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
"I was accused -- falsely, I might add. When the charges were brought, I recused myself, and allowed my general counsel and human-resources officer to deal with the matter.
"After a thorough investigation, it was determined there was no basis for the complaints," Cain related.
According to the Politico report, Cain allegedly "offended" two female staffers during his tenure at the NRA. The story indicated that "innuendo" and personal remarks of a "sexual, suggestive nature" were made by Cain at NRA events and offices.
Without naming any names, Politico quoted individuals who "witnessed physical gestures that were not overtly sexual."
Politico said a cash settlement was made to two women, who had reportedly signed an agreement to stay quiet about the matter.
The Georgia businessman said he was "not aware of a settlement."
"If the NRA did a settlement, I hope it wasn't for much because nothing happened," Cain said.
Pressed for details, Cain said he understood it was the NRA's policy not to comment further on the matter. And he said he would not "chase anonymous sources" referenced in the story.
In an earlier appearance on Fox News, Cain was asked if there were any other harassment charges in his past. Cain responded no, and then added, "The only other allegations will be trumped-up allegations."
Assessing the impact on his campaign, Cain said, "Obviously, some people are going to be turned off by the cloud some people want to put over this campaign."
At one point in his Press Club remarks, Cain referred to the harassment allegations as a "witch hunt."
The timing and anonymity of the Politico story evoked howls of criticism from conservative commentators, as well as intimations of racism.
Calling it a "late hit," radio talk-show host Laura Ingraham, a former attorney, said, "Give me five minutes [with the accusers] and five questions, along with their work records, and we would get the truth."
Recalling the sexual allegations made against Clarence Thomas amid his Supreme Court confirmation, columnist Ann Coulter called the allegations against Cain a "high-tech lynching."
Rush Limbaugh declared, "This [Politico] story is a joke that can only be appreciated by Bill Clinton and other sexual predators." Limbaugh called the Cain story "a close cousin to the hit job the Washington Post is doing on [Florida Sen.] Marco Rubio. It's the politics of minority conservative personal destruction."
Meantime, mainstream media pundits played up the Cain story.
Bloomberg columnist Jonathan Alter -- evidently oblivious to the ongoing Solyndra and Fast and Furious investigations -- asserted that there have been "no scandals" surrounding Barack Obama.
Cain, a tea party favorite, caught fire after handily winning the Florida straw poll last month.
His meteoric rise in the Republican field was affirmed in weekend polling that showed him leading Mitt Romney in Iowa and even edging Rick Perry by a percentage point in Texas.
In Monday's Press Club speech, which was scheduled before the sexual-harassment allegations broke in the media, the retired CEO drew a distinction between "a typical politician and a businessman."
"Politicians propose things they think will pass. I propose things that will fix the problem," Cain said in reference to his signature 9-9-9 tax plan.
As for curbing government spending, Cain mused, "I don't have any friends in Washington, D.C., so I don't believe I will have any problems in cutting the budget in Washington, D.C.
"We need to be bold to begin the renewal process in this country," he said.
Before concluding his appearance at the Press Club by singing an African-American Christian hymn, Cain brushed aside the notion that the political attacks on him are race-based.
Ditto for Obama, he said. "The opposition to this president has nothing to do with race. It's bad policy that people have problems with."
Cain then invited the audience to follow his campaign bus and witness a broad outpouring of public support along the way.
"This many white people can't pretend that they like me," he said to laughter.
Contact Kenric Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org or (772) 801-5341.