ORLANDO, Fla. -- At least nine Secret Service agents wearing dark sunglasses flanked Herman Cain on all sides during a short media conference outside a Christian-themed amusement park here Friday--one of the candidate's first outings with his new government security detail.
Cain, the first Republican candidate to receive Secret Service protection this election cycle, rolled up to the pre-arranged spot with three Chevy sport utility vehicles, a heavy-duty pick up truck and one mini-bus. Agents immediately jumped out of the vehicles and dispersed, warding away any supporters who tried to get too close.
Although Cain spent several minutes answering questions from reporters and even gaggled after the official press conference, it was clear that the era of open candidate-access that marked the first months of Cain's initial lower-tier candidacy is definitively over.
Cain's campaign requested the agents after several contentious skirmishes with reporters in the wake of allegations that he sexually harassed co-workers during his tenure at the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s. In an interview with The Washington Post this week, campaign spokesman J.D. Gordon cited the media swarm as a reason for requesting the Secret Service detail, but Cain on Friday denied that he was trying to keep reporters away from him.
"No," Cain said in response to a question about whether the media were responsible for his new armed guards in dark suits. "It was just that it was time because of the popularity of the campaign. It was just time to go to that next step. And I'm just glad we were given that opportunity so we're delighted to have it."
"We had private security for a while before we asked for Secret Service protection," he went on to say. "But we wanted to move to that next level because of my ranking in the polls and the additional scrutiny that I've been getting."
The AP reported Thursday that there were unspecified threats made against the candidate, but Cain wouldn't say anything beyond that when asked for details.
"The thing about Secret Service is that things are secret, so we don't discuss any details about it because that would not be appropriate," he said.
When Cain finished his remarks, he signaled to the agents that he would accept more questions from individual reporters that gathered around him near his SUV. After a few minutes, his staff ushered him into the car, and agents physically blocked anyone who followed him for more questions. Cain climbed in the car, and sped away in his new motorcade.
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