Herman Cain receives Secret Service protection

WASHINGTON (AP) - Herman Cain on Thursday became the first Republican presidential candidate to receive Secret Service protection, a spokesman for the agency said.

Cain asked for the security and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and congressional leaders approved his request Thursday, Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said.

Elite agents were expected to begin protecting the former pizza company executive sometime Thursday.

Death threats against Cain, who had been experiencing a bounce in the polls, triggered his request, according to an official with knowledge of the situation who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the situation.

Secret Service protection is given to each party's presidential nominee, but can be provided earlier if there is a credible threat. Then-Sen. Barack Obama received his Secret Service detail in May 2007, more than a year before he captured the Democratic nomination.

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.