Updated: 5:35 p.m. ET
McLEAN, Va.--During a spectacularly bad week for his GOP presidential campaign, businessman Herman Cain complained to a large audience of technology executives on Wednesday morning that "there are factions that are trying to destroy me."
And in sign that the crisis for Cain may get even worse, the Associated Press reported in the afternoon that a third woman has reported being sexually harassed by the former pizza executive when he headed the National Restaurant Association from 1996 to 1999. The woman, a former employee of the trade group, complained about "aggressive" and "unwanted" behavior by Cain, the wire service reports.
Cain, who has changed his story about what he remembers of the allegations several times, has said that confidentiality agreements prevent him from discussing details.
Republican stalwart Haley Barbour of Mississippi, the Mississippi governor and a major GOP fundraiser, disagreed with the strategy, saying Cain needs to get all the facts out now. "I think the best interest of Herman Cain's campaign--of everybody--is, let's get all the facts out," Barbour said on MSNBC's Daily Rundown. The confidentiality agreements are not in his best interest, Barbour said, "Herman Cain's interst is getting this behind him."
But getting the scandal behind did not look imminent for Cain Wednesday. In an appearance in the morning at the Northern Virginia Technology Council, the besieged Cain blamed unnamed political enemies for the scandal. "There are factions that are trying to destroy me, personally as well as this campaign. But there is a force greater at work here that is much greater than those that would try to destroy me and destroy this campaign and this journey to the White House. And that force is called the voice of the people. That's why we're doing as well as we are in this campaign so far."
Hoping for applause, Cain was met with ... silence. The roughly 350 people at the Ritz Carlton sat quietly in their chairs, leaving the besieged Republican candidate to literally beg for a response. "Y'all are supposed to applaud," the former pizza executive said. And they finally did.
The crowd's reaction is a marked contrast to the enthusiastic reception Cain was getting around the country before revelations that two woman who worked for him at the National Restaurant Association complained of sexually harassment and left the trade group with financial settlements. Since the story broke in Politico on Sunday, Cain at first said there was no settlement with any employee and later acknowledging that there was.
In his appearance before the tech group, Cain complained that he was undergoing the "third phase" in the evolution of any upstart presidential campaign that defies the political establishment. At first, "they ignore you," Cain said, and then "they ridicule you."
"So we did get our share of ridicule. The third phase, they tried to destroy you. Well, [I] got a little of that this week," Cain said. "And the fourth phase, they accept you. Right now, we're right in the middle of that third phase."
Cain gave a rendition of his stump speech, talking about the need for more investment in the military, for repeal of President Obama's health care law and for reform of the tax code in the form of the 9 percent flat tax proposal he has dubbed "9-9-9." He also promised that as president he would prevent China from building on its nuclear arsenal, a change from a statement earlier this week in which he seemed to be unaware that the economic giant already had nuclear capability.
Cain, the former executive of the Godfather's Pizza chain, who has occupied the top tier of most recent polls, is in town this week to market his campaign to Washington's movers and shakers. Instead, he has been dogged by the unfolding sexual-harassment scandal and attendant media frenzy at every stop.
The once chatty candidate and equally voluble campaign chief of staff, Mark Block, actively avoided reporters at Cain's second event of the day, a health care address at a Hilton hotel in Alexandria, Va..
Cain's security guards shouted at journalists to get out of Cain's way, and Cain himself raised his voice at the surrounding media swarm. He told reporters he would take no questions, and then when they persisted, he said loudly, "Excuse me!" He then said in a normal tone, "What part of 'no' don't dumb people understand?" Block also refused to talk to the press at the event, and slammed his car door on waiting reporters.
Later, at another health care-related event on Capitol Hill, Cain again avoided reporters and tried to focus on policy. At an appearance at the congressional Health Care Caucus, Cain said that as president he would repeal Obama's health care law on March 12, 2013, to coincide with his son's birthday. To control health care costs, he said he would support tort law reform and a "loser pays" law forcing the losers in frivolous lawsuits to pay court costs.
Cain also said he supports a proposed bill by Rep. Tom Price of Georgia that would extend the income tax deduction to health care premiums for people who purchase non-employer-sponsored plans. Low-income taxpayers would get a refundable tax credit to purchase such plans.
Since Cain on Monday declared that the sexual-harassment claims against him to be baseless, one of his accusers has asked the National Restaurant Association to release her from a confidentially agreement she signed as part of her financial settlement with the organization. That issue remained unresolved early on Wednesday.
The association released a statement Wednesday afternoon saying the organization has been contacted by the woman's attorney, Joel Bennett, and that Bennett has been referred to the NRA's outside counsel.
"Mr. Bennett indicated that he would do so tomorrow, after he met with his client," said Sue Hensley, senior vice President of public affairs for the association "
The New York Times reported Wednesday that one of the women settled for $35,000, which was a year's salary for her at the time.