Herman Cain on the Hill

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 2 2011 1:47 PM

Herman Cain on the Hill

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WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 02: Republican presidential candidate and former CEO of Godfather's Pizza Herman Cain (2nd L) is pursued down a flight of stairs by journalists after participating in a discussion with members of the Congressional Health Care Caucus in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 2, 2011 in Washington, DC. Part of the 'Thought Leaders Series,' Cain and members of the caucus discussed the current health care system and health care initiatives for the future. Cain has been making headlines for the past two days after POLITICO.com reported Sunday that the National Restaurant Association paid settlements to two female employees who accused Cain of harassment when he was president of the association in the 1990s. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The (still!) frontrunner for the  Republican presidential nomination had scheduled packed day of D.C.-area events. Eight o'clock in McLean, in the tony suburbs. Two and a half hours later in Alexandria. Then, back into the city to talk to the Republican-dominated Health Care Caucus before meeting with more Republicans at the Capitol Hill Club, their traditional nearby hangout.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

I caught up with Cain at the caucus meeting. Inside was caucus founder Rep. Michael Burgess, a medical doctor from the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, holding court with a dozen reporters. He was sympathetic to Cain, somewhat welcoming of the surge of reporters. I asked Burgess if he'd been paying attention to Cain's answers about the harassment story. He had a sarcastic barb ready.

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"The man's not accustomed to dealing with the press like I am!" he said. "You guys are going to vet this, and I have every belief you're going to look into this as carefully as you looked into President Obama's college grades."

Cain arrived late, slowed down by reporters. "You have no one to blame but yourself," joked Burgess. Cain entered the room to shouts and camera clicks -- I heard NBC's Luke Russert ask Cain if he'd "paid a woman $35,000" in the settlement, as the New York Times reported last night. Cain brushed right by, smiling, to start a 10 minute speech about his personal struggle with cancer and the need to repeal "ObamaCare."

"My chances of survival when I went through cancer treatment was 30 percent," he said. "Three, zero! Thirty percent! If a bureaucrat had to make a decision on the likelihood of that would work, what do you think the bureaucrat would have said? Don't waste the money!"

When the Q&A began, the media outnumbered the members by a ratio of around six to one. The questions -- from the members, only -- were friendly. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., asked Cain how he'd win the argument that Medicare needed to be reformed. He'd convince the country that Medicare was unsustainable and that Medicare should be turned into block grants, so states could experiment with care.

"Maybe five of them won't get it right," he said, "but the other 45 will get it right. The voice of the people will decide this campaign."

The next question was partly about messaging, too. Cain had a larger point about that.

"That's why I'm performing as well as I am in the polls," he said. "The voice of the people in this upcoming election isgoing to be more powerful than the voice of the media. They're not going to be influenced by what the media perceives as THE candidates."

Cain left after 20 minutes, ignoring some shouted questions from the press -- "Will you release the women from the confidentiality clause?" -- shaking hands, and going to the next appointment. The members who'd heard him said he'd said all the right things; and anyway, the story would burn out eventually.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.