Who Will Take the Bait on Cain’s Sexual Harassment Allegations in Tonight’s Debate?

Like the past three debates, tonight’s will be all about Herman Cain and whether he can get back on message after his fourth accuser of sexual harassment publicly came forward and a fifth alleged misconduct. It is unlikely that any candidate will be dumb enough to accuse him of guilt, sparking a vicious backlash among primary voters.

The temptation to use the harassment allegations against Cain must be huge for the candidates. The media and establishment continue to foolishly write off his candidacy, despite the fact that the polls show him as the frontrunner. The Real Clear Politics poll average has him slightly ahead nationally and with healthy leads in Iowa and South Carolina. Unlike Romney, Cain is in a position to grow as other candidates drop out and a victory in Iowa would give him a wave of momentum.

Initially, the allegations actually helped Cain. His numbers did not fall at all and he raised $1.6 million in the first five days of the controversy. He had his biggest fundraising day with $400,000 donated. He was also aided by the conventional wisdom that his fall was inevitable, as it limited the swipes from other candidates. His Positive Intensity Score has fallen by 9 points, but is still high at 57%. However, the head of InsiderAdvantage mentioned that in his November 4 poll, most voters in Iowa were not closely following the sexual harassment allegations and the Des Moines Register hadn’t devoted full-coverage to it. The full impact of the story may not be registering in the polls yet, especially with the fourth and fifth women coming forward on Monday.

It is unlikely that Cain’s rivals will side with his accusers over him but they can use it against him by mentioning his poor handling of the controversy. Politico was in contact with his camp for 10 days before the story broke and he was caught flat-footed. The candidates can make the case that he’s simply unprepared for the rigors of a general election campaign.

Next: From where is Gingrich drawing his new support?