As Herman Cain struggled this week to remember, deny, and explain away allegations that he may have sexually harassed two employees as the head of the National Restaurant Association, one question has come up again and again—where is his wife? And for that matter, who is his wife?
Unlike the ubiquitous wives-in-waiting or ready campaign surrogates already prominent on the campaign trail, Gloria Cain, Herman Cain’s wife of 43 years, has been nowhere to be seen in the runup to the 2012 elections. She has never given an interview, and rarely has joined him at campaign events.
But people close to the Cains in Georgia describe the missus as a warm, friendly, traditional wife who is more interested in keeping the sanity of her and her family’s life in McDonough, Ga., than in traipsing through cornfields in Iowa or snow drifts in Manchester.
“He is the big, gregarious personality. She is this tranquility of the campaign,” says Martha Zoller, a Republican candidate for Congress and longtime friend of Herman Cain’s.
“She is very supportive, but her one reservation was that she did not want to be in the spotlight,” Zoller says. “She understands that at some time that may come. Until then, he loves her so much that he’s going to protect her. They’re crazy about each other.”
Matt Carrothers, Cain’s former political director during his 2004 Senate run, described Gloria Cain as you would a favorite aunt or grandmother. “As a person, she smiles a lot. It seems like she’s always happy. She’s a joy to be around.” But he says that she took a similarly low profile during Cain’s 2004 campaign.
“It’s more that she has her own interests and one of them was not going on the campaign trail 24-7 with her candidate husband,” he says.
Even Herman Cain admitted in his biography, This is Herman Cain! that his presidential aspirations ran into a bit of a buzz saw when he told his wife about his plans for the first time.
“Gloria didn’t immediately jump up and down and cheer. In fact she was terrified! Scared to death!” he wrote. “That was because of the widely held perception of what it’s like to be in politics—of what it can do to your family and to you, the candidate.”
Cain said his wife eventually came around to the idea once he took her to several fundraisers and she saw supporters asking him to get into the race for real. But she never signed up for the role of political wife that the media has come to expect from the spouses of White House hopefuls.
While her husband has crisscrossed the country stumping for votes, Gloria Cain has stayed close to home outside of Atlanta. Friends says she volunteers at church, spends time with the couple’s two grown children and three grandchildren, and makes Sunday supper every week for the entire family, including the candidate, who knows what time to be there. Beyond that, “Taking care of Herman is a full-time job,” says one friend.
That job began when Herman and Gloria married in 1968, four years after meeting for the first time on the street corner in front of Herman Cain’s father’s neighborhood grocery store. Gloria Etchison was just starting her freshman year at Morris Brown College, and Cain was a sophomore at nearby Morehouse College. It would be another year before they went on an actual date—to the movies—that Cain described as “magic.”
The couple married and settled in Atlanta before Cain’s career would take them to Washington, Indiana, Minneapolis, Kansas City, and back to Atlanta, including the period in 2006 when Herman Cain battled Stage 4 colon cancer and they shuttled between his treatments at Houston’s M.D. Anderson and their Georgia home.
Throughout their moves, the Cains remained close with the same group of friends they made in their 20s, an element of consistency in their here-we-go lives, and a reminder of where they started that “keeps Herman honest to this day,” a friend says.
After a lifetime spent in her now-famous husband’s shadow, Gloria Cain will make her public debut on Friday night, when she sits down for her first national interview with Greta Van Susteren of Fox News. The interview will come under less than ideal circumstances: Van Susteren will have to ask Mrs. Cain about the sexual harassment allegations against her husband, and any drip of scandal or innuendo that emerges between now and then.
Friends of the couple say they cannot imagine any incidents of infidelity or sexual misconduct on Cain’s part, including the allegations reported in Politico on Sunday night.
“It’s just ludicrous,” Carrothers says.
For his part, Herman Cain says the woman who has stood by him for 43 years is still standing by him.
““My wife has been an absolute gem,” Cain told ABC News on Tuesday. “She has been 200 percent supportive of me today; she has been 200 percent supportive of me for 43 years.”