“We are an army. And it’s huge.” Bette Lavars, 52, stood on the sidewalk of West 57th Street, hoping to spot Herman Cain.
The former Godfather’s Pizza CEO and—until a few days ago—surprising Republican Party presidential frontrunner was expected to walk past at any moment. He was in town for his first major New York City fund-raiser, at the Russian Team Room, and the events of the past several days—which included the airing of decade-old allegations of sexual harassment and one accuser’s graphic description of Mr. Cain’s having forced her head toward his crotch—had turned what should have been a routine meet-and-greet into a circus, with dozens of reporters and TV cameramen—“the paparazzi,” Ms. Lavars called them—in tow.
A retired Air Force officer in from Long Island, she held in one hand a sign that said “I’m a Veteran and I Support Herman Cain.” In the other she kept a continually refreshed cigarette. She explained that she was an online organizer of Mr. Cain’s, coordinating hundreds of supporters on Facebook.
At least 20 were expected at the rally to show support for, and maybe catch a glimpse of, Mr. Cain, but so far only two other similarly middle-aged, chain-smoking women had joined, holding signs that said “Yes We Cain” and “LOL @ Mainstream Media” and waving miniature “Don’t Tread on Me” flags.
“We are a grassroots effort. We don’t coordinate with the campaign. That’s what they mean when they say that this campaign is unconventional.”
Among the Cainaics in midtown, the consensus was that Mr. Cain was innocent of all the charges against him.
“No, no. I’ve investigated it more than any journalist in the mainstream media. That [Sharon] Bialek, I watched the press conference. O.K., so she starts talking about what Herman Cain supposedly did to her. I said to myself, ‘That sounds like rape.’ And then she says, ‘But I didn’t tell my boyfriend.’ I said, ‘Bingo! You are a liar!’ It doesn’t pass the smell test. The first person I would have told is my husband so that he could have beat the crap out of him.”
A well-dressed woman on her way to the East Side walked by and paused to tell the women that they sucked and that Herman Cain did to.
“Fucking idiot,” one of the women responded. “Probably an Obama supporter.”
She would only give her name as Martha and said she had trooped down from Yonkers.
“Been there, done that,” she said between puffs of her cigarette. “We have seen it with Clarence Thomas. We have seen it Sarah Palin. We saw it with Michelle Bachmann. Every conservative who is black or female gets vilified. Why don’t we talk about Solyndra? Why don’t we talk about Fast and Furious? Why don’t we talk about Light Squared or Beacon Energy, O.K.? Why don’t we talk about we still haven’t seen Obama’s college transcript? There are all sorts of mysteries. Let’s talk about Jeremiah Wright. Let’s talk about Bill Ayers.”
Another member of group added, “Can you explain to me why the man is in business for 40-odd years and the only time people are coming out of the woodwork is now and they are all from the National Restaurant Association? Were there any complaints at Pillsbury? Were there any complaints at Burger King or any of his other jobs? Did anybody investigate these women or their backgrounds? I figured it out before the rest of you guys reported it.”
We asked her why she supports Mr. Cain.
“He calls it as he sees it and he is not part of the Beltway machine, O.K.? Look at the mess we are in. You have book smart and you have street smart and right now we need street smart. We need a CEO that cut costs and looks at the bottom line, who can look at a PNL statement say, ‘This is what we need to cut.’”
Her fellow Cainaics agreed. They like that he was a businessman, that he was an unapologetic conservative. And most of all, that he was not Mitt Romney.
“I had to hold my nose and vote for Bob Dole. I had to hold my nose and vote for John McCain. And I am not going to do it anymore. I want a real conservative,” said Ms. Lavars, in between puffs. She explained that she was for Rick Perry, but his debate performances turned her off.
“Romney is a checked pants Republican. The ones who defy or go against the conservative brand to get along with the Democrats.”
As she spoke, “the paparazzi” began to disperse. Word had gone out that Mr. Cain had snuck into the Russian Tea Room through a back door, and was already inside. Ms. Lavars puffed on another cigarette, disappointed.