YPSILANTI, Mich. – Herman Cain, emerging from a debate last night where recent sexual harassment allegations against him were brushed aside, was greeted at a diner here this morning by a throng of supporters who crowded his bus, lined the sidewalk, and pushed to shake his hand and snap his picture.
But the Georgia businessman also continued to show his willingness to wade into controversy. As he was exiting the Big Sky Diner – and supporters chanted, “Yes we Cain! Yes we Cain” – he stopped.
“How do you beat Obama?” he asked. “Beat him with a Cain.”
When asked why he used that term, which could be interpreted as racially insensitive, he said, “Cain. Herman Cain. C-A-I-N. Do I have to connect all the dots for you?”
Cain made the comment several minutes after apologizing for referring to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during last night’s debate as “Princess Nancy.”
“I apologize for calling her Princess Pelosi, if that’s the biggest story you all want, OK?” he said. “I apologize. I apologize for calling her Princess Pelosi. You know, I remember when Speaker Pelosi called me and the Tea Party people Astroturf. I don’t remember anybody asking about that story.”
When asked why he was apologizing, he said, “So you all will stop asking me about it. I’m about the big issues fixing this economy, not focusing on stuff like that.”
Cain, who has never before held political office, finds himself at the top of most polls and under far more scrutiny as he increasingly emerges as a chief alternative to Mitt Romney.
As he walked into the Big Sky Diner – wearing a beige sweater-vest and his trademark fedora -- people rushed to meet him. “Tell Mrs. Cain to stay strong,” one woman told him. “OK, I’ll give her that message,” Cain replied.
Just after he was introduced to the crowd inside, someone shouted, “The first real black man! the first real black man!”
“As you can tell, they’re starting to come after me, they’re starting to attack me any and every way they can,” he said. “Since they can’t kill the ideas, they’re trying to attack my integrity and my character, but the American people are not buying that. They are sick of gutter politics.”
“That sleeping giant that we call, ‘We the people,’ it has awakened,” he said. “That sleeping giant has awakened and it’s not going back to sleep.”
Cain has proved remarkably resilient, with many voters having brushed aside allegations from four women that he sexually harassed them.
“Whoever dug all this out tried to find individuals to distract from his message,” said Jo Pichan, a 56-year-old realtor from Ypsilanti. “If there’s any truth to it, I would be very disturbed. But I don’t see any right now.”
“It just shows the character of these women, to wait 10 or 15 years [to go public with the allegations]. If they had a problem, they should have taken care of it then,” said Stan Johnson, a 60-year-old retiree from Ypsilanti who has Cain as his top choice. “There may be a little truth to it, but I don’t see why they waited so long. I think they’ve got other agendas.”
Patricia Hogan, a 62-year-old nurse from Ann Arbor, said she was still undecided but said Cain had something Romney doesn’t.
“Enthusiasm. Energy,” she said. “He seems to be dynamic and a self-made man.”
Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.