In an interview airing Monday, Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann told radio host Scott Hennen that Herman Cain has been "inconsistent” on key issues -- the most forward-leaning attack she has made to date on Cain, who remains neck-and-neck with GOP front-runner Mitt Romney in recent polling.
Notably, Bachmann declined to directly answer questions about charges of sexual harassment against Cain -- dating back to his time running the National Restaurant Association during the 1990s -- that have threatened to stall his campaign for a week now, and instead hit him on matters of policy.
“Well people are looking for an adult in the room. That’s what I am,” Bachmann said, deflecting a question about whether the Cain saga helps her own campaign.
An excerpt of the interview was made available on a blog run by the co-host of “The Scott Hennen Show.” The interview was taped Friday during a brief telephone call into the show, according to the Bachmann campaign.
"There ha[ve] been 10 instances in the last month where he’s changed his positions on significant issues," Bachmann said during the call, citing Cain’s shifting statements on abortion, on a federal marriage amendment, and his modification of his own 9-9-9 plan.
“He said that 9-9-9 would be equitable and fair, then he changed it to '9-0-9' after people called out his errors,” said Bachmann, referring to a provision in Cain's economic plan that would exempt people in selected lower-income areas from paying federal income tax.
On this point, the attack may be more than just a matter of inconsistency. Bachmann is also the only Republican candidate demanding that all Americans -- including the poor -- pay income taxes, a position she outlined during an economic policy address last week in Ames, Iowa.
Bachmann also took aim at Cain on foreign policy. “He said that he would allow the terrorists to go out of Guantanamo Bay," Bachmann said. "In other words, he would release the terrorists. Then he changed his mind and said, ‘No.'"
She continued, “He just said this week that China was developing a nuclear weapon. They’ve had one for 47 years.”
The statements may also be a preview of a kind of damning-with-faint-praise attack Bachmann will use against Cain during the run-up to Iowa caucus -- the nation’s first primary contest -- to be held Jan. 3.
A recent Des Moines Register poll (released a day before the scandal erupted) put Cain in first place in Iowa with 23%, followed by Romney with 22%. Bachmann trailed in fourth place with 8%.
“Everyone loves him," Bachmann said of Cain. "Who doesn’t? He has a great personality. But, this is the leader of the free world that we’re talking about.”