Many were surprised when underdog presidential candidate Herman Cain broke out of the pack and surged to the top of the polls in the fall of 2011. But when four women accused Cain of sexual harassment and a fifth described an alleged 13-year affair, his denials and refusal to answer questions did not satisfy supporters. Below is a timeline from the first accusations to the final disclosure.
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After building a reputation as a straight shooter, Herman Cain's initial reaction to the first two anonymous women who accused him of sexual harassment seemed surprisingly off the mark. Descriptions of the incidents -- which were alleged to have occurred while Cain headed up the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s -- remained under wraps due to the non-disclosure agreements that were part of the settlements the two women accepted when they left the association. Despite their silence, Cain told his side of the story which seemed to shift as the sexual harassment accusations mounted.
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After an initial flurry of excitement that Herman Cain's initial accuser would come forward to tell her side of the story, the anonymous woman's attorney shared her decision not to go public on November 4. In large part this is due to the fact that when women come forward, they are victimized all over again by societal attitudes that sexual harassment isn't a serious issue and that women make false accusations for attention or financial gain. As this drama played out, two additional women -- both anonymous -- added their own stories of harassment to the first two, bringing the total number of women who stated Cain had behaved inappropriately to four.
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As the names of the two women who accused Cain of sexual harassment were revealed -- one of her own volition at a news conference November 7 and the other outed by the media -- comparisons were made to President Bill Clinton's own illicit behaviors in the White House. Yet unlike the President's supremely stupid indiscretions, what Sharon Bialek and Karen Kraushaar experienced was neither consensual nor welcome. Both situations beg the question: are men more likely to take advantage of female subordinates as they become increasingly more powerful? Is there a link between men, sex and power?
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For the perpetrator of sexual harassment, it's all about 'quid pro quo' -- getting something for something. That seems to be the message behind an alleged incident between Herman Cain and Sharon Bialek in 1997. Bialek had just lost her job as a fundraiser for the National Restaurant Association and contacted Cain -- then head of the NRA -- for employment assistance. According to Bialek, after the two had dinner, while seated in his car Cain put his hand on her leg, moved it up her thigh and groped her. When she resisted, he told her, "You want a job, don't you?" Cain's attitude reflects why many powerful men behave in ways that frequently cross over into sexual harassment.
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Although presidential contender Herman Cain weathered four separate accusations of sexual abuse, one Atlanta woman's admission of a 13-year affair with him that ended just 8 months ago caused him to reexamine whether or not he'd stay in the race. When Ginger White told her story and shared phone records of calls allegedly made to and from his personal cell phone, Cain admitted the two were friends but denied they'd had an affair -- and stated he'd never told his wife about White.
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While supporters seemed able to shrug off accusations of sexual harassment, when the ugly specter of alleged infidelity surfaced against Herman Cain, it became clear his campaign was in trouble. In a CNN interview on Monday, although he adamantly denied he'd been involved in an affair and insisted he would stay in the race, he conveniently left himself an exit. Cain told Wolf Blitzer that he might consider dropping out if he saw the stress taking its toll on his wife and family. After canceling a Friday engagement to fly home to wife Gloria, late Saturday night the decision was announced: Cain was suspending his campaign for president.