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A Defiant Herman Cain Suspends His Bid for Presidency

(New York Times) - An unapologetic and defiant Herman Cain suspended his presidential campaign on Saturday, pledging that he “would not go away” even as he abandoned the Republican presidential race in the face of escalating accusations of sexual misconduct.

“As of today, with a lot of prayer and soul-searching, I am suspending my presidential campaign,” Mr. Cain said at a rally in Atlanta, surrounded by supporters chanting his name. “Because of the continued distractions, the continued hurt caused on me and my family, not because we are not fighters. Not because I’m not a fighter.”

In suspending his candidacy, as opposed to saying that he was ending his bid, Mr. Cain, according to campaign finance lawyers, maintains an ability to accept money to pay for his campaign so far and potentially to finance the new venture that he called his Plan B: to travel the country promoting his tax and foreign policy plans.

The collapse of Mr. Cain’s campaign came as a new Des Moines Register poll showed that his supporters appeared to be gravitating toward Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker. According to the poll, Mr. Gingrich is backed by 25 percent of likely Republican caucusgoers, followed by Representative Ron Paul of Texas with 18 percent and Mitt Romney with 16 percent. The poll was conducted before Mr. Cain suspended his campaign, and it showed him with the support of just 8 percent of respondents, a sharp drop from previous polls.

The other Republican candidates are also in single digits. In the previous Iowa poll, conducted in late October, 7 percent supported Mr. Gingrich, while Mr. Cain was the choice of 23 percent.

Mr. Romney said on Saturday that the race remained wide open. “I don’t think people have really settled down in a final way to decide who they’re going to support in the nomination process,” he said, adding, “I hope they give us a good careful look.”

Mr. Cain said he would issue an endorsement soon. With his wife, Gloria, at his side at the Atlanta rally, Mr. Cain said the accusations of sexual harassment and of a 13-year affair were untrue. “I’m at peace with my God,” he said. “I’m at peace with my wife, and she is at peace with me.”

Mr. Cain exited much the way he entered. The circuslike atmosphere — complete with numerous delays, barbecue, a blues band and supporters in colonial-era dress — was in keeping with the campaign’s irreverence and disarray since its inception.

For days now, the campaign had fueled a “will he or won’t he?” storm of speculation, at once thriving on the news media’s attention while denouncing it as the cause of Mr. Cain’s plummeting popularity. Mr. Cain’s critics have long posited that he has been more interested in creating celebrity for himself — as a means to sell books and increase speaking fees — than in making a serious bid for the presidency.

Indeed, in his remarks on Saturday, Mr. Cain boasted about rising from near obscurity, saying, “Right now, my name ID is probably 99.9,” a reference to his “9-9-9” plan, which mixes a flat tax with a national sales tax.

Still, Mr. Cain took what may be his last moment in the national spotlight to denounce the political culture in Washington, calling politics “a dirty game.”

Mr. Cain’s admirers in Atlanta were surprised and disappointed. They blamed the news media, some screaming insults at the press corps.

Lisa Chambers, 48, a volunteer from Snellville, Ga., said: “This is not what I wanted. Not at all. I’m not sure what to do now. I’m so disappointed.”

But other supporters were more pragmatic. Dean Kleckner, a former president of the Iowa Farm Bureau who gave Mr. Cain an early endorsement, said: “I hate to say this, because he was a remarkable man in many ways, but I honestly think he did the right thing. I’m disappointed in a way, relieved in a way.”

The other Republican candidates quickly praised Mr. Cain and his agenda, in an effort to attract his supporters.

“It’s very import to remember,” Mr. Gingrich said on Saturday at a campaign event, “he was the person who had the courage to launch the 9-9-9 plan. Whether you liked it or disliked it, it raised the general level of discussion.”

Mr. Cain’s political downfall was as swift as his ascent. It began just one month after an unlikely surge in the polls, fueled by the strength of his debate performances, the novelty of his tax plan and his surprise victory in the Florida straw poll in September.

With his golden voice and folksy manner, Mr. Cain appealed to voters who sought an anti-establishment candidate. Mr. Cain, 65, grew up in poverty in the segregated South, the son of a janitor and a maid. But beyond his personal charm and rags-to-riches biography, he had an eclectic résumé: chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza, conservative radio host and chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City in Missouri.

Toward the end of October, more than one survey found Mr. Cain, who has never held elected office, essentially tied with Mr. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who has consistently been near the top in most polls.

But accusations of sexual misconduct rocked the campaign of a candidate who professed to be a devout Christian and family man. And some of the details were graphic.

A Chicago woman, Sharon Bialek, was the first to come forward publicly. Ms. Bialek said that Mr. Cain made an unwanted and rough physical advance on her 14 years ago when he was the chief of the National Restaurant Association, a lobbying group. After taking her out for a night on the town in Washington, she said, he suggested she engage with him sexually in return for his assistance in finding a job.

Within days, a second woman came forward. That woman, Karen Kraushaar, 55, worked in the government affairs office of the restaurant association for a relatively short time from 1998 to 1999, her tenure being cut short, she said, by her run-ins with Mr. Cain and the discomfort it created for her.

Two other women who complained of harassment by Mr. Cain remained anonymous. But one of those women and Ms. Kraushaar both received the equivalent of a year’s salary in settlements from the restaurant group.

From the moment the harassment accusations were revealed, Mr. Cain proclaimed his innocence and sought to cast blame for what he called a smear campaign in a number of different directions. He first accused the news media, then the rival campaign of Gov. Rick Perry of Texas. Ultimately, the Cain campaign acknowledged that it had no evidence of a conspiracy. But still, Mr. Cain, inexperienced on the national stage, issued an avalanche of confusing and often contradictory statements.

Polls conducted at the time, however, suggested that the crisis was not eroding Mr. Cain’s standing as a top-tier candidate. He continued to campaign as if he was not at the center of a swirling controversy, ignoring the accusations in speeches and not taking questions on the subject from reporters.

“We’re getting back on message, end of story,” Mr. Cain said after a debate in early November.

The accusations of sexual misconduct were not Mr. Cain’s only stumbling block. The very qualities that endeared Mr. Cain to so many conservatives appeared to undercut his chances, as questions were raised about his management style and foreign policy expertise.

In a videotaped interview with the editorial board of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that went viral on the Web, Mr. Cain became flustered when asked to assess President Obama’s policy toward Libya, lurching over five minutes from awkward pauses to halting efforts to answer.

Compared with his rivals, Mr. Cain hardly campaigned in New Hampshire and Iowa.

Former staff members complained that he spent the bulk of his time on a book tour through the South when he should have been organizing a grass-roots operation. He occasionally mishandled potential big donors or ignored real voters, said former staff members and supporters.

On the Monday after Thanksgiving, a fifth woman, Ginger White, came forward, telling a local television reporter in Atlanta that she and Mr. Cain had only recently ended a 13-year extramarital affair.

Ms. White produced phone records to prove that they had called or texted each other frequently, and Mr. Cain acknowledged giving her financial support — and also that his wife of 43 years had been unaware of what he insisted was only a friendship.

The day after Ms. White’s revelation, Mr. Cain said he was considering dropping his bid as some of his supporters and defenders began backing away.

On Friday night, Mr. Cain returned home to suburban Atlanta to meet and consult with his wife for the first time since Ms. White came forward with her claim. Mr. Cain said the ultimate decision would rest with his wife.

On Saturday, Mr. Cain directed supporters to a Web site, TheCainSolutions.com.

The site was registered on Friday by Bell Research Companies of Tifton, Ga., which manufactures low-fat powdered peanut butter and alternative fuels. The company also owns the group Americans for Jobs and Energy Security, which promotes natural gas. In documents filed last year with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Mr. Cain is listed on Bell’s board of directors.

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