ATLANTA (AP) — Herman Cain suspended his faltering bid for the Republican presidential nomination 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 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.
Some disappointed Cain supporters were clearly in search of a candidate 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.
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.