WASHINGTON — Herman Cain on Thursday became the first Republican presidential candidate to receive Secret Service protection. Cain asked for the security and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and congressional leaders approved his request Thursday, Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan confirmed.
Elite agents were expected to begin protecting the former pizza company executive sometime Thursday.
There have been threats against Cain, who had been experiencing a bounce in the polls, according to an official with knowledge of the situation who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the situation. The nature of the threats was unclear.
Donovan would not say whether there had been any threats or discuss why protection was being provided.
Cain's campaign had no immediate comment.
Secret Service protection is given to each major party's presidential nominee, but can be provided earlier if the Department of Homeland Security approves a campaign's request.
When then-Sen. Barack Obama was placed under Secret Service protection in May 2007, it was the earliest ever for a presidential candidate. One of his rivals, Hillary Rodham Clinton, already had a protective detail because she was a former first lady.
In the 2004 campaign, Democratic candidates John Kerry and John Edwards received their protection in February of that year as they competed for the party's nomination.
Federal law allows candidates to seek protection if they meet a series of standards, including public prominence as measured by polls and fundraising.
Napolitano consulted Thursday with a congressional advisory committee made up of the House speaker, the House and Senate majority and minority leaders and the House sergeant at arms, the chief law enforcement officer in the House.
Cain has been dogged in recent weeks by allegations of sexual harassment by women who worked for him when he headed the National Restaurant Association, an industry trade group, in the 1990s. He has denied the charges.
Cain's poll numbers have sunk as he has struggled to explain the allegations and overcome stumbles when discussing campaign issues, such as U.S. policy in Libya.
Even so, Cain continues to run strong among Republican voters.
"The people that are on the Cain train, they don't get off because of that crap," Cain said Thursday in New Hampshire, hours before his request for protection was approved.