It is said that passing someone on a staircase can bring bad luck.
But it seemed as though Republican presidential contender Herman Cain was well into the throes of misfortune Wednesday when he tried to elude a passel of reporters hectoring him about sexual harassment allegations when he arrived on Capitol Hill for conversations with lawmakers.
In an effort to ditch the journalists, Cain tried to escape down a stairwell in the Rayburn House Office Building after a meeting with the Congressional Health Care Caucus.
Dealing with the scandal is bad enough for Cain.
It's an altogether different issue for one of the leading GOP presidential contenders to bolt down the staircase and not realize that the man scaling the stairs directly toward him is Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.
Complete with entourage and security detail.
Still, Cain never even noticed as he descended the stairs in the opposite direction, practically rubbing shoulders with Geithner, the journalistic covey in hot pursuit.
The "9-9-9" plan is the touchstone of Cain's presidential bid. At its essence, Cain's blueprint is focused on reforming the tax code. It would implement a nine percent flat tax for businesses, a nine percent flat tax for individuals and impose a nine percent national sales tax.
"The 9-9-9 Plan gets Washington, DC out of the business of picking winners and losers, using the tax code to dole out favors and dividing the country with class warfare," boasts Cain's website.
Allegations of sexual misconduct have bludgeoned Cain's campaign the past few days. That's allowed Cain's critics and the media to land haymaker upon haymaker. This has addled Cain as he struggles to dispatch the distraction and return the narrative to tax policy. And then Cain is presented with one of those rare, cardinal moments on the campaign trail which candidates can't prepare for. Approaching Cain on the stairs is the man charged with governing the nation's tax system: Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. And trailing Cain is an entire company of reporters, photographers and TV camera operators.
You want to get the press off your back about what happened at the National Restaurant Association? Knock the story off its axis and engage President Obama's Treasury Secretary in an impromptu "stairwell debate" on tax policy with half of the Washington press corps in tow. If then-Vice President Richard Nixon can verbally spar with Soviet General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev in the "Kitchen Debates" of 1959, then Cain had the opportunity to spontaneously match wits with Geithner on a flight of steps.
Such a move had the potential to metamorphose a harrowing press day into one for the ages.
But that never happened. Cain dashed that opportunity the moment he walked right by Geithner. The candidate simply never realized that the man he passed on the staircase was the man whose tax policies he's railing against.
To be sure, Geithner was just as surprised to see the throng barreling down the stairs after Cain. Geithner only gave a wry smile and looked back over his shoulder once a reporter asked him if he had anything to say to Cain.
And so the press continued haranguing Cain about sexual harassment as he made it to the bottom of the flight of stairs, navigated a first floor hallway and piled into an SUV sporting a bumper sticker promoting Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA).
But perhaps it's no surprise that Cain wouldn't notice Geithner in the hallway. After all, Cain employs a burly muscleman who seems to double as a road grader, even in the marble corridors of Congress.
As Cain moved through the hallways, the hulking guard, who would dwarf some NFL defensive tackles, shoved several reporters out of the way and fired elbows and forearms as U.S. Capitol Police looked on. When Cain arrived for the health care meeting, the guard began barking orders to the uniformed officers, despite his lack of standing or jurisdiction in the people's House.
Kasie Hunt of the Associated Press tried to buttonhole Cain as he walked down the hallway.
"Will you please stop her? Please stop her! Please stop her!" the guard implored the police officers.
Like sheep, the officers obeyed the commands of Cain's henchmen. Almost immediately, one officer had Hunt backpedaling.
"And here's another one. Press," snarled the guard contemptuously, pointing at yours truly.
Never mind the hall in the Rayburn House Office Building is open to all so they can watch their government in action and meet with their lawmakers. And that's to say nothing of the official Capitol Hill credentials that the House and Senate grant to reporters so they can report on Congress.
"We welcome all Americans to Capitol Hill," said House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) Wednesday morning when asked about Cain's appearance in the Congressional halls.
But the words of the Speaker of the House seemed to mean little to the praetorian protecting Cain.
"I make the rules!" boasted Cain's bouncer. With a flick of his massive forearms, he shoved aides and reporters away from the doorway leading to the health care meeting.
Once the health session ended and Cain arrived at the stairwell, the body man spied Geithner and his retinue coming up the flight.
"Clear the stairs!" the guard ordered, not recognizing Geithner was approaching. The police officers then chimed in, too.
That surprised Geithner's Secret Service detail, to say nothing of the man fifth in line to the presidency.
Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), an obstetrician by training, chairs the Health Care Caucus and organized Cain's Capitol Hill appearance. In an interview on Tuesday, Burgess said he expected a free-wheeling discussion on health policy, despite the sexual harassment storm engulfing Cain.
"I did not want (the meeting) to be subsumed by this," Burgess said, predicting "45 uninterrupted minutes where we can exchange views on health policy."
Burgess said his goal was to focus the discussion on health care, regardless of the allegations surrounding Cain.
"I can control the room," Burgess said.
But the hallway outside the room was another story.
And the only person who seemed to be in charge in the hallway was Cain's antagonistic bodyguard.