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How Herman Cain's train went off the rails

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When you look at the calendar, the dizzying ride of the Cain Train basically lasted just over two months. It only felt much, much longer.

Herman Cain bolted into the national political conversation with his surprising win at a straw poll among Florida's conservatives in late September. The victory came on the heels of the unveiling of his "9-9-9" tax plan, which would soon become as ubiquitous as Cain himself.

The first story on the sexual harassment allegations that would result in a cascade of claims that would utlimately do Cain in came at the end of October. Five tempestuous weeks later, the former Godfather's Pizza chief executive was finished, suspending his campaign and ending his quixotic and often confounding bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

PHOTOS: Political scandals and gaffes of 2011

On Monday, a residue of the fading media spotlight was still falling on Cain. He pushed back at reports that he planned to soon endorse Newt Gingrich. And, according to CNN, he blamed the media and his opponents for giving his wife, Gloria, migraine headaches. At the same time, attorney Gloria Allred was holding yet another news conference blasting Cain for alleged sexual harassment.

It made for a fitting coda to what may end up being the most bizarre and absorbing chapter of the 2012 presidential race.

Here's a look back at some of the highs and lows (Spoiler alert: There are more lows) of Cain's rollicking ride:

May 21, 2011: Cain formally announces his insurgent bid for the presidency. "Awww, shucky ducky!" he tells a crowd in his hometown of Atlanta. He rips President Obama for his reliance on the TelePrompter. "We need a leader, not a reader!" Cain says. He would later repeat the line in a much different and unfortunate context.

Aug. 11: During a GOP debate in Ames, Iowa, Cain offers some pearls of wisdom, telling the audience, "A poet once said, 'Life can be a challenge, life can seem impossible, but it's never easy when there's so much on the line.' " The "poet" in question turned out to be disco queen Donna Summer, who recorded a song featuring those lyrics for "Pokeman: The Movie 2000."

Sept. 15: Cain rolls out his "9-9-9" economic plan in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

Sept. 24: In an upset, Cain walks away with the Florida straw poll in Orlando, burying Mitt Romney and Rick Perry by snagging 37% of the vote. A new national political star is born.

Oct. 5: With his rivals campaigning in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, Cain launches a multicity book tour that takes him to, among other places, Texas and Virginia.

Oct. 9: In a sign of troubles to come, Cain gives an interview to the Christian Broadcasting Network in which he mocks being held to a high standard on foreign policy.

"I'm ready for the 'gotcha' questions, and they're already starting to come," he said. "And when they ask me who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan  I'm going to say, you know, I don't know. Do you know? And then I'm going to say how's that going to create one job?"

Oct. 11: In a sign of Cain's surging candidacy, his rivals for the GOP nomination blast away at 9-9-9 at a Republican debate in New Hampshire, with Jon Huntsman Jr. saying that he thought it was the "price of a pizza" when he first heard it and Michele Bachmann contending that it would hand Congress a new tax to exploit.

Oct. 14: Leading in some polls, Cain leaves many political observers scratching their heads by launching a bus tour through Tennessee instead of campaigning in a early primary state. "Can y'all see that big bull's-eye on my back?" Cain asked during the tour's first stop in Memphis.

Oct. 18: A video of Cain singing a reworked version of John Lennon's "Imagine" hits the Internet, providing his insurgent campaign with even more media attention. The lyrics went like this:

Imagine there's no pizza
I couldn't if I tried
Eating only tacos
Or Kentucky Fried
Imagine only burgers
It's frightening and sad

Oct. 19: The Cain campaign releases an unconventional Web ad featuring chief of staff Mark Block in which Block talks about why he's supporting Cain and then smokes a cigarette. The ad becomes an Internet sensation but is also criticized by political consultants for doing nothing to highlight Cain's message.

Oct. 30: On the evening before Cain is to appear in Washington at the American Enterprise Institute and the National Press Club, Politico posts a story online that asserts that two women accused Cain of sexual harassment during his tenure at the National Restaurant Assn. and that both women entered into confidential settlements.

Oct. 31: During a speech at the Press Club and in wave after wave of media interviews, Cain decries the allegations as "false" and "baseless" but seemingly contradicts himself as to whether he knew about their existence.

Nov. 2: Block goes on cable news and accuses Perry's campaign of revealing the alleged sexual harassment incidents to Politico. A day later, the campaign reverses itself but would continue to claim unnamed enemies of Cain were behind the allegations coming to light.

Nov. 3:  Politico reports that one of the accusers received $45,000 to settle her claims after the New York Times reports another accusers was paid a full year’s salary in a settlement. The reports undercut Cain’s credibility, as the candidate had frequently described the payouts as minimal.

Nov. 7: Allred holds a news conference in New York in which a Chicago woman, Sharon Bialek, claims Cain groped her in a car in Washington in 1997 while she was seeking his help in finding a job. Cain denies the charges and his campaign launches a media blitz attacking Bialek’s credibility, but Cain begins to drop precipitously in the polls, particularly among conservative women.

Nov. 14: Video of Cain responding to a question on Libya from the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel begins circulating like wildfire. Cain hesitates for several brutal moments and appears to have little knowledge of the situation on the ground. The video comes on the heels of a foreign-affairs-themed debate in South Carolina in which Cain appeared to struggle with routine questions on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Cain revives his "We need a leader, not a reader" line as an explanation for his foreign policy shortfalls.

That evening, a rare extended interview with Cain’s wife, Gloria, is shown on Fox News Channel in which Gloria Cain defends her husband against the sexual misconduct allegations.

Nov. 17: After the Milwaukee fiasco, Cain returns to New Hampshire for the first time in over a month but blows off a scheduled meeting with the editorial board of the state’s most influential newspaper, the Union Leader.

Nov. 28: Ginger White appears on an Atlanta TV station and claims to have had a 13-year affair with Cain, who says she's just a friend. Cain makes a bizarre preemptive appearance on CNN before the Atlanta report airs to try to get ahead of the story. Within days, his campaign says he is "reassessing" whether to stay in the race.

Dec. 3: After a meeting with his wife, Cain appears at his new national campaign headquarters in Atlanta to tell the gathered crowd that he is suspending his campaign because of the toll the scandal has taken on his family.

PHOTOS: Political scandals and gaffes of 2011

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