YPSILANTI, Mich. (AP) -- Republican Herman Cain met voters for the first time since sex harassment claims engulfed his upstart presidential bid as an aggressively supportive grass-roots crowd came out Thursday to cheer him and jockey with a horde of media.
Cain was touring Michigan tea party groups all day, his first campaign swing since the story broke late last month. He's aiming to hold on to the grassroots spark that catapulted him to the top of the GOP field before the allegations of sexual harassment became public.
"How you beat Obama? Beat him with a Cain!" the Georgia businessman told one supporter as he pushed through the crowd at the Blue Sky Diner toward a back exit. The crowd cheered Cain's comments.
When a reporter asked him to clarify what he meant, Cain said: "Cain. Herman Cain, C-A-I-N. Do I have to connect all the dots for you?"
"First real black man!" one supporter shouted several times as Cain took the microphone in the cramped and crowded restaurant. Organizers had to turn away some supporters.
"I don't believe any of the bull. I think it's just a slam," Kathy McConnell, a retired truck driver from Sumter, said of the allegations that have rocked Cain's campaign the past two weeks.
The crowd - and Cain's security detail - jockeyed with photographers and reporters pressed into the small diner. Cain's security guard reached out and pushed a reporter who was trying to listen to the candidate.
"Don't touch me, lady," the guard said as he asked for the reporter's removal.
"You're a little liar!" the tea party's photographer shouted at the reporter as the jostling continued.
Cain has denied the allegations and made an oblique reference to them at the diner. "Since they can't kill my ideas, they are trying to attack my integrity," he told the crowd. His supporters were rejecting the claims, he said, because "they are sick of gutter politics."
He also apologized anew for calling House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi "Princess Nancy" during a debate Wednesday night.
Far from backing down in the face of his challenges, Cain has hired a fierce new lawyer to help him fight the four women's claims "in the court of public opinion." And he's pushing forward with a more aggressive campaign strategy to get his message out, airing his first television ad in Iowa and preparing to sign a lease on a cavernous new campaign office in Atlanta that will serve as a hub for volunteers.
Even so, there are signs that the accusations that he sexually harassed women when he led a Washington trade group more than a decade ago could be causing Cain's luster to dim. Uneasiness is growing among Republicans less than two months before voting begins in Iowa.
Private polling shared with The Associated Press shows Cain's support in Iowa has declined since last month. Internal polls of likely Republican caucus-goers showed Cain's support consistent with The Des Moines Register's poll in late October, which showed him narrowly leading in the state with 23 percent. The private polls showed Cain still in double digits in Iowa, but markedly lower.
The scandal also was filtering down to the grass roots in Iowa, where volunteers were proceeding with nightly calls to potential supporters armed with a response to questions about the allegations. Volunteers were told to echo Cain's denial of wrongdoing.
"When we are trying to convince someone to be a team leader, we answer their questions," said Steve Grubbs, Cain's Iowa campaign chairman. "The answer to that is: Tell them what Herman Cain is saying."
The Cain camp seemed to be making efforts to shore up support among women, including by rolling out the endorsement of a prominent Republican female state lawmaker in his home state of Georgia, Renee Unterman.
The campaign also released his first TV ad of the season in Iowa, and another web ad focused on his signature 9-9-9 tax overhaul plan.
And Georgia state director David McCleary said the campaign would sign a lease Friday for a new 4,200-square-foot office space that would coordinate Cain's volunteer efforts, with phone banks to call voters in early states like Iowa.
McCleary said that since the allegations broke "I've had more people call and volunteer, saying `How can I help?'"
Cain's new lawyer, Lin Wood, could provide polish and focus to a candidate who struggled to stick to a consistent version of events as the story broke.
In an interview with The Associated Press, the Atlanta-based lawyer whose high-profile roster of clients has included the family of Jon Benet Ramsey and wrongly accused Olympic park bomber Richard Jewell, said he would help the campaign "evaluate and respond to" the women's claims.
"Mr. Cain is being tried in the court of public opinion based on accusations that are improbable and vague," Wood told The AP. "The media - bless your heart - you turn our system of justice into one of guilt by accusation."
But Republicans worry privately about Cain's impact on a nominating contest that's about to start in earnest. While no one is rushing to push him out of the race and he has vowed to remain a candidate, the chorus is growing for the former pizza company executive to explain the allegations of unwanted sexual advances that have come to light more than a decade after they are said to have happened.
"It's one of the he-said-she-said stories," said GOP strategist Greg Mueller. "But you want to put the story to rest as quickly as you can and let the voters decide. It seems like every day it's a new elevation of the story. Either that's going to peter out or it's going to solidify."
Cain's day with tea party groups was also taking him to Grand Rapids and Traverse City, according to organizers. Tea party backers form the core of his support and many have said recently that they give no credence to the allegations against him.
Four women have said Cain sexually harassed them in the 1990s when he headed the National Restaurant Association. Two have come forward publicly, including one who had filed a sex harassment claim.
Associated Press writers Philip Elliott in Washington and Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report. McCaffrey reported from Atlanta.
Follow Kasie Hunt at http://www.twitter.com/kasie and Shannon McCaffrey at http://www.twitter.com/smccaffrey13