Ending days of intense speculation, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain announced Saturday that he will suspend his unlikely campaign, citing the toll that weeks of sexual-harassment and adultery allegations have taken on his family.
“My wife, my family and I, we know that those false and unproved allegations are not true,” said Cain, whose wife, Gloria, stood behind him onstage as he made the announcement. “So one of the first declarations that I want to make to you today is that I am at peace with my God. I am at peace with my wife. And she is at peace with me.”
A defiant and at times angry Cain, 65, made his announcement at what had been scheduled as the festive grand opening of his Atlanta headquarters. Ever the common-sense businessman, Cain told the crowd that his Plan A -- becoming president -- would have to give way to Plan B, changing Washington from the outside.
“I am not gonna be silenced, and I am not going away,” Cain said. “And therefore as of today, Plan B.”
Cain said he would soon endorse one of his Republican rivals. By suspending his campaign, rather than ending it, he can still raise money to pay off debts.
Cain’s conservative views, combined with charisma, strong debate performances and his rags-to-riches personal story, propelled him from a curiosity to the top of the polls among Republicans, albeit briefly.
His support had already softened dramatically before the announcement. In a poll released Friday, the Des Moines Register found that Cain was favored by only 8% of Iowa’s likely first-in-the-nation caucus-goers, a disastrous plunge from the 23% backing enjoyed he enjoyed only a month ago.
Had he remained at the back of the pack, it is possible Cain’s private life would never have been subjected to such intense scrutiny. But as Cain liked to joke, the “target on my back” grew bigger with every leap in the polls.
A successful Atlanta radio talk show host, motivational speaker and author after retiring as CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, Cain joined the race officially in May. His announcement before 15,000 at Atlanta Memorial Park was one of the few campaign events that his wife was at his side.
But soon after he caught fire in early debates with his outsider persona and “9-9-9” tax-simplification plan, Cain’s campaign started to unravel this fall. On Oct. 31, Politico reported that at least two women had received confidential financial settlements after accusing Cain of sexual harassment when he ran the National Restaurant Assn. in the late 1990s.
A week later, a third woman, Sharon Bialek, became the first woman to publicly accuse Cain of inappropriate sexual behavior, saying he attacked her in a car when she sought his help finding a job. Cain denied all the charges, called the women liars and said he had never met Bialek.
On Monday, he found himself again on the defensive, when Atlanta businesswoman Ginger White said she had carried on a 13-year “sexual” affair with Cain, who also gave her money.
In an unusual appearance on CNN that day, Cain tried to preempt White, telling Wolf Blitzer that he was about to be accused again.
“I am sick and tired of the hurt and harm that somebody out there is doing to my family with these baseless charges,” Cain said, vowing to stay in the race “as long as my wife believes I should.”
On Thursday, in comments broadcast on C-SPAN, Cain told the editorial board of the Manchester Union Leader that his wife did not know about his friendship with White, nor that he gave White money. He portrayed White as nothing more than a friend who was in dire financial straits.
“My wife and I have talked about it, and I have explained it to her,” Cain said. “And you know, my wife understands that I’m a softhearted, giving person.”
Some voters were put off by the scandals surrounding Cain, but others were more worried about his lack of foreign policy experience, as dramatically illustrated by a meeting with the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. There, after a long pause in which he seemed confused, he was unable to offer an opinion on President Obama’s Libya policy. Later, he insisted he paused “to gather my thoughts. I’m not going to back down from that.”
Many experienced Republican strategists said Cain’s decision was expected.
“He was never a serious candidate, so I can’t say this was, in the end, very surprising,” said GOP veteran Mike Murphy. “I think only people with real prior experience in national politics know how tough a process it is. For others, like Cain, it looks fun but then comes the rude awakening. It’s just not a business for amateurs.”