By David Lightman / MCT
Republican presidential candidates will debate Wednesday night for the first time since Herman Cain became controversial, Rick Perry unveiled his optional flat-tax plan and Mitt Romney explained in detail how he’d reduce budget deficits.
Cain, who scheduled a news conference Tuesday to defend himself against accusations of aggressive sexual behavior by several women, will be watched most closely.
“People are still getting to know him, and the allegations are one of the most likely things people know about Herman Cain at the moment,” said Matt Grossmann, an assistant professor of political science at Michigan State University.
Eight Republican candidates will spar for two hours, starting at 8 p.m. EST, at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., a Detroit suburb. CNBC will televise the debate.
They’re supposed to talk about the economy in a state that’s suffered more than most.
Since the last GOP debate, on Oct. 18, Romney and Cain have remained at or near the top of national Republican preference polls. Perry’s been sinking, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas has maintained solid support around 10 percent, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has begun to climb to low double digits.
Cain, dogged by sexual harassment accusations, is stumbling. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken last Wednesday through Saturday found that 35 percent said they viewed Cain negatively — double last month’s number.
The poll was taken after a report Oct. 30 by the Capitol Hill newspaper Politico that when Cain headed the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, two employees accused him of aggressive sexual behavior.
He kept the story going with his repeatedly changing account of what happened, saying first that he was unaware of any financial settlement with the women, then later saying a settlement had been reached.
Last week, The Associated Press reported an account by a third accuser, and a fourth surfaced Monday, Sharon Bialek, the first to allow her name and face to be public.
Cain continues to deny any misconduct.