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'Princess Nancy' + sex-harassment claims = Herman Cain's looming women problem

Accused by multiple women of sex-harassment, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain headed into tonight's debate under intense scrutiny -- especially from women, who are more likely to be victims of harassment and therefore more sensitive to the issue. The subject is literally and politically touchy on so many levels.

When he was asked about the charges, the Republican crowd booed -- the debate moderator, Maria Bartiromo, that is, not Cain's alleged behavior or his denials of wrongdoing. When the moderators moved on, the crowd cheered. And Cain continued to wow the crowds and rack up the accolades on Twitter.

Then he said it: "Princess Nancy," a comment directed at former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Not "Queen Nancy." But "Princess Nancy."

There's something about the dismissiveness of it that seemed to strike women the wrong way. Consider the instant Twitter reaction of Dana Perino, the former spokeswoman for George W. Bush and a conservative in good standing: "Ay yi yi, former Speaker Pelosi called a princess in the debate? Not fair. We may disagree on policy, but she earned the Speaker title."

But just as he hard-charged and pushed back against his accusers, Cain's campaign doubled down on Twitter with this: "The answer to Health Care: HR3000, the bill killed by "Princess Nancy" in committee #tcot #cnbcdebate."

The comments, like the sex-harassment charges, won't necessarily be fatal in a partisan primary campaign. But in a general election, where the female vote looms large, this kind of talk is far more toxic. And that makes it tougher to win the electability argument in the primary, even though the race is supposed to be all about jobs.

**Update: A poll released Thursday indicates Cain has a woman-voter problem

Sure, the phrase 'Princess Nancy' is just two words. But little phrases can take on big meaning. Remember John McCain saying in 2008 that "the fundamentals of the economy are still strong." That helped sink him.

 "GOP candidates can talk economic policy until they are blue in the face," tweeted conservative Amanda Carpenter, "but that princess comment is going to dominate the talk tomorrow."

 Then Rick Perry fell apart and became the talk of the debate. So Cain will get more of a pass, thanks to the candidate he blamed for leaking some of the sex-harassment claims in the first place. But don't expect this to die as an issue, especially now that some of his accusers are planning on a joint press conference that will keep the story alive. 

After the debate, Mother Jones reports, Cain walked back his "Princess Nancy" remark saying, "That is a statement I probably should not have made." His campaign however, was proud enough of the line that they repeated it on his official Twitter feed.

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