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First Thoughts: Lowering Cain?

Lowering Cain?... Does Politico story hurt his poll position, and does it benefit others in the GOP field?... Cain camp hardly gives an unequivocal denial to the story… Perry launches second TV ad in Iowa in hopes of getting a second look… Plouffe unloads on Romney… Obama meets with Tony Blair and signs executive order to prevent drug shortages… And Super Committee receives more and more attention.

*** Lowering Cain? What the political gods giveth, they also taketh away. Just a day after the Des Moines Register poll showed Herman Cain leading the GOP pack in Iowa, a Politico report surfaced alleging that at least two women who worked under Cain when he headed the National Restaurant Association complained of inappropriate behavior by the ex-Godfather’s Pizza CEO. “The women complained of sexually suggestive behavior by Cain that made them angry and uncomfortable, the sources said, and they signed agreements with the restaurant group that gave them financial payouts to leave the association.” NBC News has not yet independently verified the Politico report. The Cain campaign issued this response last night, which doesn’t unequivocally deny the charges: “Inside the Beltway media have begun to launch unsubstantiated personal attacks on Cain. Dredging up thinly sourced allegations stemming from Mr. Cain’s tenure as the Chief Executive Officer at the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, political trade press are now casting aspersions on his character and spreading rumors that never stood up to the facts.”

*** Hardly an unequivocal denial: Also last night, Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon called into FOX’s “Geraldo at Large” show, per NBC’s Andrew Rafferty. Gordon never responded directly when host Geraldo Rivera repeatedly asked if there was a financial settlement between the candidate and two women who reportedly accused him of inappropriate behavior. Gordon finally said, “You would have to get that from the National Restaurant Association.” Mediaite also notes that Gordon never explicitly denied the allegations. “‘[D]o you deny that this ever happened?’ Geraldo questioned. ‘Let me just tell you this is an example of the media attacks,’ Gordon hit back. ‘Yes or no, was there a cash settlement to two female employees of the National Restaurant Association?’ Geraldo persisted. But Gordon would only continue to give non-answers to the allegations. ‘All I am telling you right now is it’s something the establishment is trying to attack…’”

*** So what happens to Cain -- and to the rest of the field? The Politico story is the latest knock on Cain since he began to rise in the polls, following scrutiny and criticism of his 9-9-9 plan, his foreign-policy views, and the seriousness of his campaign (all of the non-early-state travel, that smoke‘em-if-you-got’em Web video). Three questions immediately come to mind: One, can his campaign handle this story? (The most sophisticated of political operatives struggle to handle and get in front of scandal stories; Cain’s less experienced team, so far, appears to be struggling big time.) Two, assuming the campaign can’t fix this, does Cain become the latest conservative darling (after Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry) to sink in the polls? And three, what happens if he does? Could that benefit Perry or someone else? After all, that 23% in Iowa in the Des Moines Register poll and the 27% in the national NBC/WSJ poll have to go somewhere, right? By the way, the discussion of that Politico piece comes as Cain spends his day in DC with two public events. At 9:00 am ET, he speaks at the conservative American Enterprise Institute on his 9-9-9 plan. Then, at 1:00 pm, he delivers an address to the National Press Club. So the media throng will be there to greet him. Also, Cain Chief of Staff Mark Block will be on MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown” at 9:00 am.

According to a report by Politico, Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain was accused of sexual harassment by two different women while he was the head of the National Restaurant Association. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.

*** Perry hopes for a second look: Meanwhile, Perry is up with his second positive TV ad in Iowa, NBC’s Carrie Dann reports. The ad references his less-than-stellar debating skills. "If you're looking for a slick politician or a guy with great Teleprompter skills, we already have that -- and he's destroying our economy," Perry says to the camera. "I'm a doer, not a talker." He goes on to say, “In Texas, we created 40% of the new jobs in the entire since June of 2009, and we cut a record $15 billion from our state budget.” As the New York Times writes, “Two months before the Republican contest opens with the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, two questions loom: Can Mr. Romney attract the three-quarters of Republicans in most polls who say they prefer to support another candidate? And can Mr. Perry — or another rival — emerge as a singular alternative to Mr. Romney by coalescing conservative support that is now dispersed?”

*** Plouffe unloads on Romney: On “Meet the Press” yesterday, White House Senior Adviser David Plouffe blasted Romney (and we’re hearing some questions in the Democratic community whether someone that high up in the White House should be engaging Romney so personally right now). “[H]e has no core… You know, he was supportive of doing things like a cap in trade agreement. Now he doesn't think that, you know, climate change is real. He was to the left of Ted Kennedy on gay rights issues. Now he wants to amend the constitution [on] gay marriage. He was an extremely pro-choice governor. Now he believes that life begins at conception.” Plouffe continued, “You get the sense with Mitt Romney that, you know, if he thought it was good to say the sky was green and the grass was blue, to win an election, he'd say it.”

*** Obama’s day: At 10:00 am ET, President Obama meets with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. And then at 12:20 pm, he signs his latest executive order as part of the administration’s “We Can’t Wait” effort. A White House official tells NBC’s Kristen Welker that the executive order directs the Food and Drug Administration “to take action to help further reduce and prevent drug shortages, protect consumers, and prevent price gouging.”

*** Super Committee gets more attention: As we mentioned last week, the Super Committee -- especially with its Thanksgiving deadline -- begins to receive more and more attention. The Los Angeles Times: “Congress' ‘super committee’ on deficit reduction moves into its serious negotiation stage this week, with its members still far from the goal of reducing the deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next decade. Negotiators from both parties emerged from their secret talks in recent days to float a pair of partisan deficit-cutting proposals. Both were swiftly shot down.” More: “If the committee fails, a series of automatic spending cuts is set to kick in to reduce military and domestic spending. Lawmakers from both parties also fear that a failure could cause turmoil in financial markets.”

*** On the 2012 trail: Besides Cain’s events in DC today, Santorum campaigns in Iowa… And Huntsman stumps in New Hampshire.

*** Monday’s “Daily Rundown” line-up: Cain campaign's Mark Block... Former Reps. Martin Frost (D-TX) and Tom Davis (R-VA) on Congress clashing over cuts... More 2012 news with New York Times' Jackie Calmes, Washington Post's Dan Balz, and Chicago Tribune's Clarence Page.

*** Monday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews NBC’s Chuck Todd, Ann Selzer (on the new Des Moines Register poll), HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Politico’s Jonathan Martin, BusinessWeek’s Josh Green, and Democratic strategist Bob Shrum.

Countdown to Election Day 2011: 8 days
Countdown to Iowa caucuses: 64 days
Countdown to South Carolina primary: 82 days
Countdown to Florida primary: 92 days
Countdown to Nevada caucuses: 96 days
Countdown to Super Tuesday: 127 days

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