TODAY   |  November 06, 2011

Cain gets testy during debate

Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain got a bit hot under the collar on the subject of sexual harassment claims during a one-on-one debate with fellow conservative Newt Gingrich. NBC’s Mike Viqueira reports.

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LESTER HOLT, co-host: We want to begin though with Saturday night's GOP debate between Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich , and all eyes were on Cain , what he has to say or not say, actually, about the sexual harassment charges against him. NBC 's Mike Viqueira is at the White House for us. Mike , good morning.

MIKE VIQUEIRA reporting: Good morning to you, Lester . Go ahead and mark your calendar. The election happens exactly one year from the -- from today. And with the first votes cast in Iowa and their caucuses in less than two months, Herman Cain is lashing out at the media. He called the media last night nitpicky and dishonest as he tries to survive the controversy now swirling around him. It was a one-on-one face-off of competing conservatives.

Mr. NEWT GINGRICH: We are have to come up with solutions.

VIQUEIRA: Newt Gingrich now rising in the polls.

Mr. HERMAN CAIN: You cannot micromanage health care costs out of Washington, DC.

VIQUEIRA: And Herman Cain , already a front-runner, now struggling amid charges of sexual harassment. No talk of scandal allowed. It was only after the debate, when Cain met the press, that things got testy.

Mr. CAIN: I was going to do something that my staff told me not to do and try to respond. OK? What I'm saying is this.

Offscreen Voice #1: Could you -- could you go to the microphone? We are -- we are getting back on message.

Offscreen Voice #2: Thank you, Mr. Cain .

Mr. CAIN: End of story . Back on message. Read all of the other accounts. Read all of the other accounts where everything has been answered. End of story . We're getting back on message, OK?

VIQUEIRA: Despite a week of controversy, Cain 's campaign says donations have increased fourfold. Last night, conservative rival Michele Bachmann , now trailing badly in the polls, launched an attack against Cain .

Representative MICHELE BACHMANN: Everyone loves him. Who doesn't? He has a great personality, but this is the leader of the free world that we're talking about.

VIQUEIRA: Earlier this weekend in Des Moines , five GOP hopefuls, minus Cain and Mitt Romney , presented a unified front at a dinner honoring Ronald Reagan .

Governor RICK PERRY: You might say that, Newt , we're involved in a project called " Operation Occupy the White House ."

Mr. RON PAUL: Is that better?

Group of People: Yeah!

VIQUEIRA: With the Republican field unsettled and Iowa 's first in the nation caucus now less than two months away, experts say the race could go down to the wire .

Mr. STU ROTHENBERG (Political Analyst): Until Iowa Republicans focus on a true decision, not who they like now, not who excites them now, we may have a distorted view of what Iowa Republicans want.

VIQUEIRA: And, Lester , while Herman Cain support has held steady in a lot of polls since this controversy first broke a week ago today, a new poll out last night from Reuters shows some slippage. The percentage of Republicans who view Cain favorably dropped 9 percent in the past week to 57, and dropped 5 to 32 percent among all registered voters. So it appears -- and it's too early to tell, Lester , whether he can survive this -- but it appears now that this controversy is taking its toll and he's losing some support at this point.