MANCHESTER - Herman Cain acknowledged Thursday that he repeatedly gave Ginger White money to help her with "month-to-month bills and expenses" without telling his wife of more than 40 years.
In fact, the embattled presidential candidate said, his wife, Gloria, "did not know that we were friends until she (White) came out with this story" alleging that the two had a 13-year extramarital affair.
In his most candid interview since the latest allegations emerged, Cain adamantly maintained that he and White were no more than friends.
► C-SPAN video of Union Leader interview with Herman Cain
Cain also stated clearly for the first time that as a result of the constant controversy he has been facing, he is considering getting out of the presidential race.
Asked whether leaving the race is one of the options he is currently assessing, Cain said, “Yes, it is an option.” Regarding his decision, he said, "You will know by next week" as he takes the weekend to reassess where he stands in the campaign.
Cain said he believes that “someone offered (White) a lot of money” to make the allegation. He said he can't prove it.
Overall, Cain told the New Hampshire Union Leader, “One of the things that I have learned in this situation is that running for President has become a very dirty game. It's a dirty game - OK?”
Cain also said he believes there is a concerted effort by “a network of people,” both Democrats and Republicans, to bring him down.
Cain said that in about 70 text messages White sent him between Oct. 22 and Nov. 18, she was "asking for financial assistance because she was out of work, had trouble paying her bills and I had known her as a friend.
"She wasn't the only friend who I had helped in these tough economic times, and so her messages to me were relating to ‘needed money for her rent' or whatever the case may be. I don't remember all the specifics."
Cain said White told him in the texts that she did not have a job and was unable to get financial help from her family, "and that quite frankly, I was the only person who was a friend at the time - and I underscore ‘friend' - that was in a position to help her.
"I'm a soft-hearted person when it comes to that stuff. I have helped members of my church. I have helped members of my family.
"And I know a lot of other people who had done the same thing. She was asking me to help her, and sometimes, quite frankly, it was desperation," Cain said.
Cain said that in 17 reported texts back to her, he would respond with messages such as, "What are you doing to get a job?"
Cain said he did give Ginger White money, but, on the advice of counsel, he said, he refused to say how much.
And, he acknowledged, "My wife did not know about it, and that was the revelation. My wife found out about it when she went public with it."
Not only didn't his wife not know about the financial assistance, he said, but she also "did not know we were friends until she (White) came out with this story.
"My wife now knows," Cain said. "My wife and I have talked about it and I have explained it to her. My wife understands that I'm a soft-hearted giving person."
He said his wife "is comfortable with the explanation that I told her."
Cain said that in retrospect he should have told his wife about his friendship with White sooner, "but retrospect doesn't necessarily change what's going on now."
He said White never threatened him with going public with the allegation of an affair if Cain did not give her money, "nor was there any indication that there might be blackmail or anything like that.
"I thought I was helping a friend, end of story," he said.
Cain said he does not know why White has gone public with the allegation, "but I have very strong speculation that someone offered her a lot of money.
"I was helping her with month-to-month bills and expenses, and somebody _ this is speculation only _ offered her a lot of money.
"And one of my objectives is to clear my name and my reputation," Cain said.
Cain said the two "struck up a friendship" many years ago when she attended a conference in Louisville, Ky., where he was the keynote speaker.
He said that although he is considering leaving the race, “We weren't slowing down" in the campaign. "We're keeping all commitments and we're reassessing several things.
“So, yes, getting out is an option," he said. "That just meant we were not going put the brakes on until” he made his decision.
Cain said he intends to meet with his wife and family members during the weekend as part of his reassessment of his campaign.
He said he will leave the race if his wife asks him to do so, “but my wife wouldn't ask me to get out.
“I would make a decision based on how all of this stuff is affecting her, because I will put her first,” he said. “But she's not the type to say, ‘You ought to get out.'”
Other than family, Cain said he would leave the race if campaign contributions dry up.
“If financial backers started to not want to contribute, because _ and I've heard this from some people _ they see this cloud not going away.
“I haven't been convicted of anything except in the court of public opinion, but the media drives the court of public opinion,” he said.
“Every time a new story comes on TV, it mentions sexual harassment charges. That's inaccurate because they were found baseless. I call them false accusations.
“They were false. They were not proven, so every time they are called sexual harassment charges, that just keeps saying to people sexual harassment, rather than false accusation.
“So, understandably, some people might say I can't get the nomination with this cloud, so they're going to stop giving,” he said.
Cain said that while some in the media are “professional, there are some that are truly not professional. Those that love to play ‘gotcha' politics.”
He also said politicians have an audience in “the political class,” as well as “the third audience,” which, he said, is “we the people.”
“I have got totally difference responses and reactions from those three audiences,” he said. “The establishment says it's a distraction to the party. It is.
“The establishment says, ‘You can't get the nomination because of the cloud.' Maybe, but that's the way they think.
“The people are ones who are saying, ‘We love your solutions, your optimism. Don't drop out, if that's an option.' But it's always got to be an option. It's like a business,” Cain said.
As for the motive behind the latest allegations and earlier allegations that he sexually harassed former co-workers at the National Restaurant Association, Cain has said that “they” are “attacking” him and and his “character, my reputation and my name, in order to bring me down.”
He said Thursday, “The ‘they,' I believe, is a network of people who would not like to seem me challenge President Barack Obama as the Republican nominee.
“I believe some of them are Democrats and there might be some Republicans. I don't fit the traditional paradigm. So, when I say ‘they,' it's not just one side of the aisle. I believe there is a tendency on both sides of the aisle,” he said.
The interview lasted about an hour and included Union Leader Publisher Joseph McQuaid, editorial page director Andrew Cline and senior political reporter John DiStaso. An earlier interview, scheduled for two weeks ago, was canceled at the last minute due to a disagreement over how much time Cain would be available to speak to the newspaper.
(For more on our interview with Herman Cain, see the New Hampshire Sunday News and UnionLeader.com on Sunday.)