By RAY HENRY and THOMAS BEAUMONT, Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) — Herman Cain told aides Tuesday he is assessing whether the latest allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior against him "create too much of a cloud" for his Republican presidential candidacy to go forward.
Acknowledging the "firestorm" arising from an accusation of infidelity, Cain only committed to keeping his campaign schedule for the next several days, in a conference call with his senior staff.
"If a decision is made, different than to plow ahead, you all will be the first to know," he said, according to a transcript of the call made by the National Review, which listened to the conversation.
It was the first time doubts about Cain's continued candidacy had surfaced from the candidate himself. As recently as Tuesday morning, a campaign spokesman had stated unequivocally that Cain would not quit.
Cain denied anew that he had an extramarital affair with a Georgia woman who went public a day earlier with allegations they had been intimate for 13 years.
"It was just a friendship relationship," he said on the call, according to the transcript. "That being said, obviously, this is a cause for reassessment."
He went on: "With this latest one, we have to do an assessment as to whether or not this is going to create too much of a cloud, in some people's minds, as to whether or not they would be able to support us going forth."
Saying the episode had taken an emotional toll on him and his family, Cain told the aides that people will have to decide whether they believe him or the accuser. "That's why we're going to give it time, to see what type of response we get from our supporters."
Cain has denied the affair as well as several other accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior that have dogged his candidacy over the past month. He had been publicly resolute about pressing ahead even as his standing in public opinion polls and his fundraising started to slide.
But in the conference call, he pledged only to keep his imminent schedule, including a foreign policy speech at Hillsdale College in Michigan later Tuesday that he promised to deliver with "vim, vigor and enthusiasm."
One participant on the call, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the conversation, described the tone as positive but also noted the uncertainty coming from Cain.
After the conference call, Cain attorney Linn Wood told AP: "Any report that Mr. Cain has decided to withdraw his candidacy is inaccurate."
"I think they are assessing the situation, just as I would expect the campaign to do or any prudent business person to do," said Wood. He added that he would hate to see what he described as false accusations drive Cain out of the race for the presidency.
On Monday, Ginger White said in an interview with Fox 5 Atlanta that her affair with Cain ended not long before the former businessman from Georgia announced his candidacy for the White House.
"It was fun," said White, 46, as she described Cain buying her plane tickets for a rendezvous in Palm Springs, Calif. "It was something that took me away from my sort of humdrum life at the time. And it was exciting."
Cain went on television to flatly deny White's claims even before the report aired.
"I didn't do anything wrong," he said then. On Tuesday, he told his staff "I deny those charges, unequivocally," and went on to say he had only helped White financially "because she was out of work and destitute, desperate."
Seemingly out of step with Cain's denials, his lawyer issued a statement Monday that included no such denial of the affair and suggested that the media - and the public - had no business snooping into the details of consensual conduct between adults.
Cain's response was faster and more deliberate than he had managed when it was reported that three women alleged he had sexually harassed or groped them when he was the president of the National Restaurant Association in the mid- to late 1990s. The trade group paid settlements to two women who had worked there.
As some conservative Republicans sought an alternative to Mitt Romney, Cain surged in the polls while pushing his 9-9-9 tax plan and providing tough criticism of President Barack Obama during televised debates.
But as the harassment allegations surfaced, Cain stumbled in explaining his views about U.S. policy toward Libya and other foreign policy issues, creating an opening for rival Newt Gingrich to assert himself as a more reliable, seasoned politician to challenge Romney and even Obama. Cain fell in the polls and Gingrich began to rise.
In her TV interview, White said she decided to come forward after seeing Cain attack his other accusers in an appearance on television.
"It bothered me that they were being demonized, sort of, and being treated as if they were automatically lying, and the burden of proof was on them," she said. "I felt bad for them."
She said she first met Cain in the late 1990s in Louisville, Ky., when he was president of the National Restaurant Association. They had drinks and he invited her to his hotel room, she recalled.
She quoted Cain as telling her, "You're beautiful to me and I would love for us to continue this friendship," then produced his personal calendar and invited her to meet him in Palm Springs.
White has been accused of lying before. A former business partner, Kimberly Vay, filed a libel suit as part of a larger business dispute with White. Vay's attorney, Kurt Martin, said a judge sided with Vay after White failed to respond to the suit. Martin said a jury must still decide whether to award damages.
White's attorney, Edward Buckley, acknowledged the libel suit. He said White thought the libel claim had been settled as part of a larger settlement.
Associated Press writers Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, Steve Peoples in Amherst, N.H., Greg Bluestein in Dunwoody, Ga., and researcher Barbara Sambriski in New York contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)