Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, in consultations with congressional leaders, authorized Secret Service protection for Cain at the request of his campaign, the agency’s spokesman Ed Donovan said Thursday.
It is not clear why Mr Cain is being given protection now but the decision is not though to be connected with the shots fired at the White House on Friday.
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.
Cain’s spokesman said the protection had started but did not respond when asked in an e-mail why the campaign had asked for federal protection as the former pizza company boss tries to become the Republican nominee for president in the November 2012 election.
Elite agents were expected to begin protecting the former pizza company executive sometime Thursday.
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.
The Secret Service is normally assigned to major candidates around four months before the November general election.
Barack Obama, elected president in November 2008, got Secret Service protection in May 2007, the earliest ever for any candidate.
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.
New York Senator Hillary Clinton, now Obama’s secretary of state, was under Secret Service protection before she entered the 2008 presidential race because of her status as the wife of former President Bill Clinton.