Herman Cain suspends presidential campaign

ATLANTA (AP) — Herman Cain suspended his faltering bid for the
Republican presidential nomination on Saturday, throwing his staunchly
conservative supporters up for grabs with just one month to go before
the lead-off caucuses in Iowa.

Still sounding defiant, Cain
denounced the drumbeat of sexual misconduct allegations against him as
“false and unproven” but said that they had been hurtful to his family,
particularly his wife, Gloria, and were drowning out his ability to
deliver his message.

“So as of today, with a lot of prayer and
soul-searching, I am suspending my presidential campaign because of the
continued distractions and the continued hurt caused on me and my
family,” a tired-looking Cain told about a 400 supporters. His wife
stood behind him on the stage, drawing chants of “Gloria!” from the
crowd.

Cain's announcement provides a new twist in what has
already been a volatile Republican race. Former House Speaker Newt
Gingrich has, so far, been the biggest beneficiary of Cain's precipitous
slide. Polls show Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney
atop the field in what is shaping up as a two-man race heading into
early voting states.

But others, such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry and
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann will likely make a strong play for
Cain's anti-establishment tea party backing as they look to rise and
become a viable alternative to Romney, whose conservative credentials
are suspect in some GOP circles.

Cain said he would offer an
endorsement and his former rivals were quick to issue statements on
Saturday praising his conservative ideals and grassroots appeal.

At a tea party rally in Staten Island, Gingrich praised Cain for bringing optimism and big ideas to the race.

“He
had the courage to launch the 999 plan which, whether you liked it or
disliked it, was a big idea and started to elevate the debate toward big
solutions and not the usual nitpicking, consultant-driven negativity,”
Gingrich said.

Some disappointed Cain supporters were clearly in search of a candidate on Saturday following his withdrawal.

“I
don't know where I will go now,” Janet Edwards, 52, said following
Cain's announcement. “I guess I have to start looking at the rest of
them.”

Cain told supporters he planned to continue his efforts to
influence Washington and announced “Plan B” — what he called a
grassroots effort to return government to the people.

Cain's
announcement was a remarkable turnabout for a man that just weeks ago
vaulted out of nowhere to the top of the GOP field, propelled by a
populist, outsider appeal and his catchy 9-9-9 tax overhaul plan.

Saturday's event was a bizarre piece of political theater even for a campaign that has seemed to thrive on defying convention.

Cain
marked the end of his bid at what was supposed to be the grand opening
of his new campaign headquarters in Atlanta. Minutes before he took the
stage to pull the plug, aides and supporters took to the podium to urge
attendees to vote for Cain and travel to early voting states to rev up
support for his bid.

“Join the Cain train,” David McCleary, Cain's Georgia director, urged the audience.

Volunteers
had been up through the night preparing the former flooring warehouse
to open as the new hub of Cain's early-state outreach.

Cain's
announcement came five days after an Atlanta-area woman claimed she and
Cain had an affair for more than a decade, a claim that followed several
allegations of sexual harassment against the Georgia businessman.

“Now,
I have 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.

But Cain intoned: “I am at peace with my God. I am at peace with my wife. And she is at peace with me.”

He
marveled at rising from a childhood in Atlanta marked by segregated
water fountains and poverty to what he called “the final four” of the
presidential contest.

The former Godfather's Pizza chief executive
who has never held elected office rose just weeks ago to lead the
Republican race. But he fumbled policy questions, leaving some to wonder
whether he was ready for the presidency. Then it was revealed at the
end of October that the National Restaurant Association had paid
settlements to two women who claimed Cain sexually harassed them while
he was president of the organization.

A third woman told The
Associated Press that Cain made inappropriate sexual advances but that
she didn't file a complaint. A fourth woman also stepped forward to
accuse Cain of groping her in a car in 1997.

Cain has denied wrongdoing in all cases and continued to do so Saturday.

Polls
suggest his popularity had suffered. A Des Moines Register poll
released Friday showed Cain's support plunging, with backing from 8
percent of Republican caucusgoers in Iowa, compared with 23 percent a
month ago.

But Cain said Saturday he would not go away and would continue trying to influence Washington from the outside,

He announced the formation of TheCainSolutions.com,
which he described as a grassroots effort to bring government back to
the people. It would also continue to push his signature 9-9-9 plan that
would scrap the current tax code for a 9 percent tax on personal and
corporate income as well as a new 9 percent national sales tax.

“I am not going to be silenced, and I am not going away. And therefore, as of today, Plan B. Plan B,” he said.

He
departed the stage and worked the crowd, thanking supporters before
departing in the bus — his face plastered on the side — that had
shuttled him to campaign stops.