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'Team Cain': A portrait of the candidate's marriage

By Wayne Drash, CNN
updated 11:14 AM EDT, Sat November 5, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Friends of Herman Cain rally behind GOP candidate, say marriage is strong
  • "They have a strong love," says former Atlanta mayoral candidate
  • Herman and Gloria Cain have been married for 43 years
  • Herman Cain's aunt calls sexual harassment allegations lies

To read more and see Robin Meade's interview with Herman Cain, go to HLN's new digital destination, HLNtv.com.

Atlanta (CNN) -- The pastor at the Atlanta megachurch asked married couples celebrating anniversaries to come to the front.

Gloria and Herman Cain were among those who stepped forward.

The Rev. C.M. Alexander, the powerful senior pastor of Antioch Baptist Church North, told his audience that it's important for the singles in the congregation to see married people happy and expressing love.

All the couples kissed, but it was the Cains' smooch that turned heads. The year was 2006, when Herman Cain was battling stage 4 colon cancer.

"They were like really kissing. We were like, 'Wooooooooh!' " said Tiffany Brown, a church member at the time. "Some people get bland as they get older. They're not one of those couples."

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It is that type of bond, friends say, that has kept the couple together for 43 years.

"It's not one of those relationships that's 'just because.' They have a strong love," says Brown, a former Atlanta mayoral candidate and Cain supporter.

While Herman Cain has soared in popularity in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, his wife has remained out of the spotlight. Gloria Cain is rarely seen on the campaign trail and, so far, has not been available to media outlets clamoring to speak with her.

The interest in her has only intensified this week as Cain faced media questions about allegations of inappropriate behavior toward two female employees when he led the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s.

"She will be introduced in terms of some limited exposure, but it's not her style for her to be with me on every campaign stop because, No. 1, it's grueling, and I want her to continue to be the nucleus for that calm and tranquility that you want from your family," Cain told Fox News on Monday.

At the time, Cain said an exclusive interview with his wife was in the works, and reports indicated she would appear Friday on Fox News. But the appearance didn't materialize. Campaign spokesman J.D. Gordon said discussions about the interview were never finalized and that the campaign did not cancel the appearance.

Asked whether the couple will do a joint interview in the near future, Gordon said: "When we have something to announce we will."

The allegations of sexual harassment were first reported Sunday in Politico. Cain has said he had been "falsely accused" of sexual harassment at the restaurant association. Earlier this week, he told CNN's sister network HLN that he informed his wife about the allegations at the time "because it was found to be baseless."

He said what has been the hardest part for his wife is "all the innuendos" from the news reports this week.

Cain has harshly criticized the Politico report as a political attack to try to undercut his popularity.

"The American people are starting to see through this stuff, and they are sick of gutter politics," Cain said in a radio interview with Sean Hannity on Thursday. Cain told Hannity his wife "is feeling for me more so. She knows it is baseless." He said the controversy is "having a toll on her."

Friends of the family said the allegations run counter to the man they know.

"What I've seen on TV is a lie," Bessie Randall, Cain's 81-year-old aunt, told CNN on Monday. "I know it's not true."

Brown, who was single at the time she was a member of Antioch -- where Cain is an associate minister and his wife is active in the choir -- said she doubts the sexual harassment allegations and said it's more a sign of the political establishment trying to undercut Cain's rising popularity.

"People come out of the woodwork with character flaws and different things. He just seems to not go away (in the polls), so they're going to throw the kitchen sink at him," Brown said.

"There were other people I saw that side of, but not with him -- never. He would be the last person to say anything like that."

The Cain campaign has denied requests by CNN to interview the candidate's wife.

"At this time, Mrs. Cain is not participating in interviews. When this changes, we will be in touch," the campaign said in a statement last week.

Herman Cain, 65, has said previously he's trying to keep his family protected from the ups and down of running for president. Gloria Cain had a pacemaker implanted in 2005 to help with a serious heart fibrillation, according to his book "This is Herman Cain! My Journey to the White House."

"Gloria continues to be a steady source of devotion and inspiration, never more so than now," the candidate writes in his book.

"Some people have certain expectations concerning the traditional politician's wife, though, and I'm often asked: 'Where is your wife? Why isn't she campaigning with you?'

" 'She is at home,' I answer.

"And Gloria will tell them that she's not running but she supports me 100%. That's all I need."

Don't mistake her absence, friends say, for a lack of interest. She's always been the behind-the-scenes mover and shaker of the family, even if he towers over her diminutive 5-foot frame.

"They know each other instinctively to the point they don't need to double-check with each other," Brown said. "They're a united front. If there's anything you remember, they're Team Cain -- Team Cain all the way."

Cain says he has two favorite photographs at his office in Stockbridge, Georgia. One depicts his three grandchildren (ages 12, 7 and 2), dressed as Thing 1, Thing 2 and Thing 3 from Dr. Seuss' "The Cat in the Hat." The other is of his wife, the girl who won his heart during a chance encounter when they were in college in the 1960s -- he at Atlanta's Morehouse College, she at nearby Morris Brown.

It took him a full year before he got the nerve to ask Gloria Etchison out.

"It was magic from that moment on, and so I didn't go out with anyone else," Cain writes in his book. "Neither did Gloria. And we dated and dated and dated."

They married June 23, 1968, and have been together ever since.

Yet few details are known about Gloria Cain. CNN contacted more than a dozen friends and family members of the Cains' as part of a series of profiles of the leading candidates' spouses, but most weren't willing to speak on the record.

Professors and staff at her alma mater, Morris Brown, would only say she is a valued supporter of the school, but they deferred all other questions to the Cain campaign, which declined comment.

Gloria Cain was by her husband's side when he announced his presidential aspirations to a raucous crowd in Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park in May.

The most detail about her comes from Cain's book. He dedicates the third chapter to his wife. Titled "Gloria," it begins with a quote from Proverbs 31:10: "Who can find a virtuous woman? For her worth is far above rubies."

"She's taking the stance that she's always done in church," Brown said. "She's letting him take the lead and doing what she feels is best. When they're ready for her, they'll bring her out a little more. She's a very eloquent person."

In a recent CNN interview, Cain said he and his wife could retire comfortably, but he's being driven by his love of country.

"It's not about cruise control to the end of your life. It's those grandchildren and others' grandchildren that has caused me to try to do what I can do to make things better."

So who is Gloria Cain?

Friends describe her as a devoted Christian active in her church and choir. Every Sunday, she cooks a soul food feast for family of tender roast, collard greens, green beans, candied yams and corn bread.

"That's the meal I want on my deathbed," Cain says in his book.

While her husband climbed the corporate ladder, she brought stability to their home. She raised their two children, Melanie (born in 1971) and Vincent (born in 1977), as her husband broke barriers at Coca-Cola, Pillsbury and Godfather's Pizza. They've lived in Atlanta, Minneapolis and Omaha, Nebraska, among other cities, over the years.

The quiet, unassuming Mrs. Cain also worked as a teacher and librarian.

"She was with me every step of the way," Cain has said.

According to his book, one of her slogans is: "The first thing you do in order to inspire Herman to do something is just tell him 'You can't do it.' Then, get out of his way!"

But she expressed apprehension when he first considered his presidential run, according to a passage in his book.

"What's your greatest fear about my running?" he asked her.

"That you might win!" she answered.

"Is that all there is?"

"No," she said. "I've seen you do the impossible before, by the grace of God."

But if there's anything that demonstrates the strength of their marriage, friends say, it's the way she handled his battle with cancer. Cain was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in early 2006 and given a 30% chance of survival.

Gloria Cain accompanied her husband for treatment at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and kept a cancer journal for him. During one doctor's visit, he and his wife learned his cancer had spread to his liver.

"Gloria and I were shocked coming out of that surgeon's office," he writes.

As the two got in their car, she asked, "Are you OK?"

"Yeah," I said.

"Do you need me to drive?" she asked.

"No, I can drive." Then, I said, "This a true test of my faith."

"Our faith," she corrected him. .

Today the Cain campaign says he is cured, having been cancer-free for five years.

It's their faith in God and in each other that sustained them during those difficult times -- and prepared them for their current journey, friends say.

"That's why this experience is nothing to fear, because once you stare death in the face at that level, you come to grips with your own mortality," Brown said. "Running for president of the United States kind of pales in comparison.

"When you've seen a spouse fight stage 4 cancer, she's seen the high points and the low points. And their love has transcended."

Brown, a small-business entrepreneur, said she's confident the couple will remain strong no matter what is thrown at them. She recalled a conversation she had with Herman Cain a couple of days before her bid for Atlanta mayor -- when polls showed she was in trouble.

"You'll live another day," Cain told her.

She said she believes the current headlines will "blow over."

"The national stage is a natural means to belittle and pick at, versus to elevate," Brown said. "If they can get past this and weather it, they'll be totally fine. Relationship-wise, there's nothing they have to worry about."

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