CHICAGO – It’s the question everyone is asking about Herman Cain: Will he or won’t he drop out of the Republican presidential race? And it’s a question he’s not answering … yet.
“We are reassessing,” he told me Wednesday after his rally in West Chester, Ohio, outside Cincinnati. Later that day, the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO ducked the question by quoting baseball legend Yogi Berra.
“It ain’t over till it’s over, and it ain’t over yet,” Cain said in New Hampshire.
When pressed, Cain gave a timeframe of the “next several days” to make a final decision, saying he needed to sit down face-to-face with his wife to discuss the latest allegations of sexual impropriety leveled at him: Ginger White’s claim that the two had a 13-year extramarital relationship. That sit-down with his wife is set to happen today — and Cain said he would quit the race if that is what his wife wants.
“Since I’ve been campaigning all week, I haven’t had an opportunity to sit down with her and walk through this with my wife and my family. I will do that when I get back home on Friday,” said Cain.
So let’s read some tea leaves here. Does it seem like Cain is poised to call it quits on his campaign?
In Ohio Wednesday, Cain stuck to his stump speech, energizing crowds from West Chester to Dayton to Columbus. In Dayton, Cain sent a packed hotel ballroom into loud chants of “We want Cain! We want Cain!” Rather than sounding defeated, Cain spoke about what his presidency would seek to accomplish in areas ranging from energy to national security. He railed against the liberal establishment, arguing that he had been the victim of “character assassination.”
“They want you to believe that we can’t do this,” he said in Dayton. “They want you to believe that with enough character assassination on me that I will drop out.”
“No!” cried the crowd of around 150 supporters.
“They want you to believe that because President Obama is going to raise a billion dollars that he is automatically going to buy a second term,” Cain continued. “The American people have a different idea — Obama might raise a billion dollars, but the American people are going to raise some Cain in 2012!”
Cain launched a new ad in Iowa. He sent out a call for volunteers asking them to join the campaign as they “head to an Iowa caucus victory.” He stuck to his campaign schedule, making stops not only in Ohio and New Hampshire but also in Michigan and Tennessee. He blasted out a fundraising email attacking White.
That is one of the reasons why Craig Robinson, head of TheIowaRepublican.com, believes Cain will stay in the race.
“I would be surprised if Cain drops out of the race,” said Robinson. “Even though he has openly admitted that he is ‘reassessing’ his campaign, his campaign also sent out an email once again attacking the woman who came forward with details of extramarital affair. If Cain were seriously thinking about exiting the race, I don’t think he would have continued to be so aggressive in his denial.”
The vigorous denials. The new ads. The lively rallies. It all looked, sounded and felt like a campaign that was very much alive and well. But looks can be deceiving. Cain has recently plummeted in the polls since his highs earlier this fall at the top of the GOP leader board. He has lost his slot as the “alternative” to Mitt Romney, replaced lately by Newt Gingrich.
Numerous sexual harassment allegations have taken their toll politically, to say nothing of the ramifications that he will face within his family. While Cain has denounced White as a “troubled Atlanta businesswoman,” he will clearly need to evaluate the impact that these latest allegations have had on his family. Perhaps that is why — despite sounding like a committed campaigner on the stump — Cain did anything but commit to staying in the race when asked by reporters if he would press on.
“We are reassessing as we speak,” he said along the rope after his West Chester event. “Reassessment means reevaluation.”
While he cited a “groundswell of positive support” after White’s allegations, he again said, “We are still in [the] reassessment phase.”
It sure sounded as if Cain is leaving the door open to a withdrawal from the Republican race after he speaks with his wife.
When Cain wrapped up his remarks in West Chester, he concluded, “We can do this. We can do this.” As if he was almost trying to convince not his supporters but himself.
So what would it mean if Cain bailed? It would potentially, according to Robinson, have a massive effect on the primary.
“If Cain drops out, I think it causes a major shift in the race,” Robinson said. “Not because he has a lot of support on the ground here in Iowa, but it would alter the race in a couple of ways. First, it would mean that the conservative vote in Iowa would not be cut up in to as many pieces as it currently is. With Cain out of the picture, it creates an opportunity for one of the candidates stuck at 5 or 6 percent in the Iowa polls room to grow, which would create momentum.
“Secondly, if he drops out of the race, the debate will change,” Robinson continued. “One less candidate on the stages will give the other candidates more time and opportunities at a critical time in the race. A candidate like Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann need that extra time in a debate to mount a late charge in Iowa.”
Matthew Jaffe covers the 2012 campaign for ABC News and Univision.