Herman Cain, the charismatic former radio host and pizza magnate who electrified the Republican race for the White House, said Saturday he was suspending his campaign after more than a month of fighting allegations of sexual misconduct.
With his wife, Gloria, at his side, Cain, 65, broke the news on a brilliantly sunny day before several hundred disappointed supporters. They had gathered for what was to have been the opening of his new national headquarters in northern DeKalb County.
He continued to deny accusations that he sexually harassed several women while he was president of the National Restaurant Association, and that he carried on 13-year extramarital affair with a metro Atlanta woman. He suspended his campaign, he said, because the accusations and the accompanying media coverage was hurting his family.
The "false and unproven accusations," he said, have brought "a tremendous painful price on my family. These false and unproven allegations continue to be spinned in the media and in the court of public opinion so as to create a cloud of doubt over me and this campaign and my family. That spin hurts."
Cain said he will now turn his attention to "Plan B," which begins with a new website --- thecainsolutions.com --- that he said he'll use to continue to advocate for the ideas he raised in the campaign. And, by suspending rather than ending his campaign, Cain can continue to raise money and will also qualify for federal matching funds for 2012 candidates.
Jim Rosser of Brookhaven was among the more than 400 people in the crowd Saturday. Like many in the crowd, he was hoping before Cain spoke that he would be able to clear up the allegations and continue campaigning.
"He could win the nomination, but all this stuff has got to be cleaned up," said Rosser, 62, a retired manager at AT&T. "The door's got to be closed today."
But in an interview, Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz, an expert on presidential politics, said Cain's difficulties became insurmountable after Ginger White of Dunwoody went on television last week and said she and Cain had carried on a 13-year extramarital affair.
"On top of everything else it was going to make it very difficult for him to be taken seriously about anything else and to raise money," Abramowitz said. "If you can't raise money you can't go on for very long."
Indeed, Cain acknowledged last week that his fundraising had suffered as his poll numbers cratered. By Saturday, his support had fallen to single digits.
Kerwin Swint, a Kennesaw State University political scientist, said Cain and his campaign staff did a poor job of handling the controversies.
"It's been a lingering, huge cloud over him for about a month now, and it's not getting any better," he said.
Cain and his wife met with about a dozen top supporters before Saturday's speech to inform them of his decision.
In his address, which included references to everything from his 9-9-9 tax plan to the cartoon character Pokemon, Cain said he intends to endorse another candidate for the GOP nomination. A possible recipient of that support is Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and Georgia congressman, with whom Cain enjoys a close relationship.
Following Cain's announcement, Gingrich quickly issued a statement saying Cain would continue to be "a powerful voice in the conservative movement."
After Cain finished speaking, tears streamed down one woman's face. A stout man cried and others walked toward their cars as Cain shook hands near the stage. Most of the crowd dissipated within a few minutes.
"It's unfortunate," said Rich Daleski, a software engineer from Duluth. "I don't know if he would have won. But something's got to change."
Some had expected Cain to announce he would press on.
Debbie Whelchel of Suwanee worked as a precinct manager for Cain's campaign, spending part of a day last week decorating the Christmas tree inside his north DeKalb campaign office. She said she had no idea Cain would drop out of the race until he hinted in his speech that he was satisfied with being among the top four candidates for president.
Then, her stomach dropped.
"I was really hoping he would come out swinging," she said.
Cain's announcement puts the cap on what will go down as one of the wildest rides in presidential campaign history.
When Cain joined the already crowded GOP field in May, announcing his candidacy before more than 10,000 boisterous supporters in Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park, few national opinion leaders gave him much of a chance against more experienced, better-funded and better-known opponents.
Over the next four months, Cain did little to change their minds. In debates, his combination of inspirational speaker's fire and natural-born charm served him well. But outside those gatherings, Cain drew little attention. In August, he finished a distant fifth in the closely-watched Iowa straw poll.
He released his now-famous 9-9-9 tax plan on Aug. 18. But it was largely ignored as Texas Gov. Rick Perry jumped into the race and became the instant, if brief, frontrunner.
It wasn't until late September that the "Cain train" began its surge with a surprise win in the closely contested Florida straw poll. He surged in the polls just as Perry's campaign began to lurch and, suddenly, it was a Mitt Romney vs. Cain contest.
But even as a front-runner, Cain struggled. Instead of touring early voting states, he went to Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, Illinois and Indiana to promote his new book.
He also put himself in difficult positions with some of his less-orthodox proposals, as when he told a crowd in Tennessee he would build an electrified fence along the Mexican border. Days later he apologized, but said he would still consider it.
On Oct. 19, Cain went on CNN and said the government shouldn't tell a woman she can't get an abortion. More than a week later, under fire from social conservatives, he said he opposed abortion in all cases, even for rape or incest.
Still, he climbed in the polls. By late October he had opened up a 7-point lead on Romney in one national survey. He was attracting huge crowds and was the darling of the tea party.
Then, on Oct. 30, his troubles began. Washington-based Politico reported that two women had accused Cain of sexual harassment when he was head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s.
Cain and his campaign stumbled through the response. He said the allegations were false and at first refused to answer questions. Then he admitted there was one case he remembered, but said the woman misconstrued his actions and that he had never harassed her, despite the fact she was paid to drop her claim. He blamed the press and a Perry campaign staffer he said had leaked the information.
On Nov. 7, it began all over again. A Chicago woman held a press conference to say that in 1997 Cain had groped her in his car in Washington. Again, Cain issued a denial, then had a press conference and tried to get back on track. But the polls were showing the effects of the allegations as he dropped into third place behind Romney and the rising Gingrich.
The final blow came Monday, when Ginger White of Dunwoody went on Atlanta television and said she had had a 13-year extramarital affair with Cain. Denying the accusation but acknowledging payments to White, Cain continued to campaign, but said he would "reassess" his campaign.
Saturday, Cain told the crowd outside his erstwhile headquarters that he had "made many mistakes in life. Everybody has. I've made mistakes professionally, personally, as a candidate, in terms of how I run my campaign. And I take responsibility for the mistakes I've made, and I have been the very first to own up to any mistakes I've made," he said.
"I am at peace with my God," he added. "I am at peace with my wife. And she is at peace with me."
Staff writers Nedra Rhone and Jeremiah McWilliams, The Associated Press, The Washington Post and Politico contributed to this article.
What people are saying:
"I'm sitting there watching Herman, and I'm actually thinking, 'Don't do it, buddy, stay in there and fight.' [But] I do not know his family situation and that is the deciding factor." -- Neal Boortz, Cain friend and Atlanta radio show host
"I think he was our last hope for a decent candidate. I do believe he should have stayed on. None of the forerunners has my attention." --Jim Wainscott, Cain supporter from Coweta County
"Right now I'm kind of all mixed up, and I don't know what I'm going to do." --Sherry Loumakis , Cain campaign volunteer from Lawrenceville
"I'm sure he has made the very best decisions for him and his family. I appreciate the fact that he listened to his family and didn't try to talk them out of it. I'm sure there has been a lot of pain." --Joan Virag of McDonough, a Cain campaign donor
"Had he not been in the race, I think the Republican field would have been more or less in the middle instead of to the right as they are now, and they would not have been talking about tax reform." --Debbie Dooley of Dacula, co-founder of the Atlanta Tea Party
"Herman Cain provided an important voice to this process. His ideas and energy generated tremendous enthusiasm for the conservative movement at a time it was so desperately needed to restore confidence in our country." --Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., presidential candidate
Staff writers Aaron Gould Sheinin, Nedra Rhone and Jeremiah McWilliams, The Washington Post and Politico contributed to this report.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.