THE WOODLANDS, Texas -- A combative Herman Cain defied his staff and commented on the sexual harassment allegations that have been dogging his candidacy for nearly a week, telling media that "everything had been answered."
After a generally cordial and policy-filled debate between Cain and fellow Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, the former businessman took questions from reporters during a press conference in which event organizers told reporters the focus needed to be entitlement spending.
"Don't even go there," Cain told a reporter who began asking about the harassment allegations. Cain then asked his chief of staff, Mark Block, to deliver the reporter a copy of the "journalistic code of ethics."
But the exchange spurred more questions for Cain on whether he would comment on reports that two of his employees received money after complaining he had sexually harassed them while head of the National Restaurant Association.
"Are you not going to answer questions about this ever again?" a reporter asked Cain.
With a grin he said, "You got it," and began to leave the room to a barrage of shouted questions.
But before making it to the door, he stopped and said, "I was going to do something that my staff told me not to do and try to respond, OK?"
As he began talking, Cain staffers told him he needed to leave – but Cain sat back down.
"We are getting back on message, end of story. Back on message. Read all of the other accounts, read all the accounts, where everything has been answered in a story. We’re getting back on message," he said.
Before tonight’s debate, Texas Patriots PAC, who organized the event, made clear the focus would be on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Questions about the allegations were off limits, but event organizers declined to say who made that decision.
Cane came to Texas for the one-on-one debate with Gingrich, a former speaker of the House, moderated by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa. The 500 people who paid $200 to attend the event saw two candidates largely in agreement on the need to reform entitlement programs and cut Washington spending.
The event came one day after an attorney for one Cain’s accusers spoke publicly and said his client filed the complaint "in good faith" but wishes to remain private and doesn't want to tell her side of the story.
The only hint of the recent controversy surrounding Cain’s candidacy came at the end of the debate, when Gingrich asked if anything surprised the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza about running for president.
"There are too many people in the media who are downright dishonest," he said to applause.
Still, after the debate, Cain said, "I've had a great week."
His campaign has raised more than $1.6 million in the past seven days, and a Washington Post-ABC News poll showed him trailing leader Mitt Romney by just a point in the race for GOP presidential nomination.