His campaign sent the quip out on Twitter almost immediately, to drive home the point, but the public response was not as the campaign might have expected.
“Ay yi yi,” tweeted Dana Perino, who served as White House press secretary for President George W. Bush. “Former Speaker Pelosi called a princess in the debate? Not fair. We may disagree on policy, but she earned the speaker title.”
Mr. Cain later called the remark “a statement that I probably should not have made.”
After battling accusations that he sexually harassed subordinates while he was chief of the National Restaurant Association in the late 1990s, Mr. Cain faces a new challenge: calibrating his behavior toward women in an atmosphere colored by the allegations.
This was not the first time Mr. Cain had called Ms. Pelosi a princess. On his radio talk show in Atlanta, he referred to her that way routinely.
With Mr. Cain’s campaign running a defense against the sexual harassment charges, any remark or photograph could create a PR problem if seen as rude, flirtatious or aggressive toward women.
Thursday, Mr. Cain was caught on tape joking about Anita Hill, who accused Clarence Thomas of harassment decades ago during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing.
Polls suggest that Republican women support Mr. Cain in numbers that are roughly equal to men, but flickers of discontent are emerging in crucial constituencies.
According to a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 39% of Americans who have heard about the allegations against Mr. Cain think they are true.
At the moment, Mr. Cain does not seem to be making a pitch to the general electorate. He is appealing to his base, the energetic, conservative core of the Republican Party.
Women make up the majority of the electorate and tend to register and vote in greater numbers than men, but the Republican base tends to be disproportionately male.
A New York Times/CBS News poll conducted last month found that female Republicans were about equally supportive as men of Mr. Cain, within the poll’s margin of sampling error — 28% of women said they support Mr. Cain compared to 22% of men.