ABC News’ Shushannah Walshe and Michael Falcone report:
URBANDALE, Iowa — Herman Cain’s Iowa state director thumbed through a stack of supporter sign-up forms at the campaign’s headquarters here, telling ABC News that the sexual harassment allegations that have rocked the Cain campaign this week have actually been a “catalyst” in this state.
Larry Tuel, who runs Cain’s campaign in Iowa, said that the endless stream of news stories on Cain’s alleged misbehavior toward women have attracted new supporters and emboldened existing ones.
“The story has made some people angry,” Tuel said in an interview on Thursday. “We think that people want to show their support for Mr. Cain. I think the average Iowan that’s supporting Mr. Cain or any candidate sees through this story, sees that there is nothing to it and that they’re out in droves to support Mr. Cain.”
Tuel and Cain’s Iowa communications director, Lisa Lockwood, said they were undeterred by the controversy enveloping the campaign this week or the fact that over the past couple of months Cain has mostly been an absentee candidate in the state, which holds the nation’s first nominating contest in early January.
“We’d like to see more of Mr. Cain,” Tuel said. “Of course Mr. Cain cannot move to Iowa any more than he can move to New Hampshire or South Carolina, and he’s got a busy schedule. We’re running a different kind of campaign. It’s a national campaign — that requires his presence coast to coast.”
Cain last visited Iowa on Oct. 22, and Tuel said the next time he expects the candidate back in the state is Nov. 19. Tuel also noted that plans are in the works for an early December bus tour through the state, much like the one Cain took ahead of the August Ames Straw Poll. Campaign sources said the tour might include a “mega town hall meeting,” with thousands in attendance.
During a lunchtime visit this week to Cain’s headquarters, located in a shopping center in the Des Moines suburb of Urbandale, reporters from ABC News found about a dozen volunteers telephoning potential supporters, many of them older Iowans. When ABC returned in the evening — a time when local campaign offices would usually be packed with an after-work crowd — only two volunteers remained in the office. They said that others were at home making placards for Friday night’s Iowa Republican Party Dinner, which Cain does not plan to attend.
ABC News visited the same campaign headquarters last month and found the office quiet and empty.
On Thursday, the walls of the headquarters were adorned with red, white and blue bunting and hand-printed, poster-sized calendars of volunteer shift times. The office only has eight phone lines and volunteers sat in front of laptops at cubicles making phone calls.
One of them — retiree Pat Smith — said she started volunteering at the Iowa office last week. She carried a photo she had taken with Cain on a previous visit to Iowa, and in an interview she called Cain a “moral” and “genuine” man.
“I think that they’re just trying to besmirch the man,” Smith said of the sexual harassment allegations against him. “I think he’s such a gentleman that I don’t even think he’s capable of this kind of behavior, I really don’t.”
But Smith acknowledged that during her phone banking on Thursday, Iowans she spoke with peppered her with questions about the controversy.
“That came up with every phone call,” she said. “I think there’s a concern about it, but I really think that he’s above so much of this. I don’t think it’s going to hurt him at all.”
Another volunteer Patti Spencer Burdette, a Presbyterian minister who’s been volunteering for Cain since January, called the presidential hopeful the “real deal.” She said the allegations were not hurting the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO with voters here and that Iowa Republicans were taking them “with a grain of salt.”
“Everybody wants to see the top dog be brought down, and I firmly believe that’s very much a part of it and other people wanting to get 15 minutes of fame on their own,” Burdette told ABC News. “It’s reaching people, but it’s not necessarily reaching them in such a way as they are going to start doubting the man.”
She added, “We are Iowans. We don’t get real upset about anything because we know that common sense is supposed to guide our lives.”
Tuel said the allegations that have gripped not only the campaign, but the political news cycle for the entire week will make the campaign “stronger.” In a recent Des Moines Register poll, Cain and rival Mitt Romney were running in a virtual dead heat for the lead in the Hawkeye State, less than two months before the first caucus votes are cast here.
“We have had no one mention to us that there’s anything negative about the story as it relates to Iowa voters,” Tuel said. “All of our supporters think that the story is just what it is — there’s nothing to it. The bottom line is these people really have come out and supported Mr. Cain, perhaps a little bit because of the story but also because now is the time to get behind your candidate and that’s what they’re doing.”
Earlier this week, Cain’s Iowa State Chairman, Steve Grubbs, tweeted that the campaign signed more than three dozen new precinct captains in one day. And Cain campaign officials here said they were planning to open two other satellite offices — one in Council Bluffs and another in Cedar Rapids — between now and the Jan. 3 Caucuses. The campaign only has a handful of paid staff in the state.
Also this week the campaign launched its “Iowa Fund” — a challenge to raise $999,000 before Nov. 9. Late Thursday the campaign announced it had already collected more than $250,000 toward that goal.
Cain’s communications director Lisa Lockwood, who used to work for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, said she thinks the accusations against her boss are only bubbling up now that he is at the top of the polls.
“The further ahead in the polls he gets the bigger the target gets and the more ammo they try to throw at him,” she said.
A national ABC News poll released on Friday showed that Cain remains a top contender for the Republican nomination. Cain was just one percentage point behind Romney, 23 percent to 24 percent.
“I don’t see Mr. Cain being in any way any kind of a threat, making any woman uncomfortable,” Lockwood told ABC News. “He’s a friendly guy. It’s — I was skeptical about it because now that he is becoming nationally known, all of a sudden this has been dredged up from, what, 12, 15 years ago. The timing of it is, I think, odd.”