, Georgia, Dec 4 – Republican White House hopeful Herman Cain effectively ended his US presidential bid, citing the painful toll of “false and unproved” allegations of sexual harassment and adultery.
Appearing defiant but clearly upset, the former pizza executive announced to gasps from a crowd of supporters that he was “suspending” his campaign because of “the continued hurt caused on me and my family” by claims of impropriety.
“America has learned something about this process of running for president. It’s a dirty game. It’s a dirty, dirty game. But I happen to believe that the American people are sick of this mess,” Cain said at a rally in Atlanta.
The dramatic announcement curtailed a roller-coaster run for the White House that, after a meteoric rise that had put Cain at the front of a field of experienced politicians seeking the Republican nomination, had begun to falter.
Cain said he would endorse in the “near future” another Republican bidding to take on President Barack Obama in the November 2012 election and he vowed to stay in politics with a “Plan B” initiative that he dubbed “Cain Solutions.”
“I am not going to be silenced, and I am not going away,” Cain said in a passionate speech, in which he pledged to remain “a voice for the people.”
With his wife Gloria at his side, the 65-year-old Cain added: “I am at peace with my family, and I am at peace with myself… I am at peace with my wife, and she is at peace with me.”
The candidate’s wife of 43 years smiled and waved to the crowd of her husband’s supporters, who broke into chants of “Gloria, Gloria, Gloria” during Cain’s speech outside what was to have been his campaign headquarters.
By choosing to suspend his campaign, rather than definitively shutting it down, Cain is able to continue raising and spending campaign funds.
But his departure clears the field for other Republicans hoping to take on Obama, boosting the chances of current favorites Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, another challenger who has suffered in the polls, was the first to wish Cain well.
“I know this was a difficult decision for Herman Cain, his family and his supporters. He helped invigorate conservative voters and our nation with a discussion of major tax reform,” Perry said.
After lagging for months, Cain caught the imagination among strategically vital Tea Party conservatives with a simple, oft-repeated slogan for tax reform — “9-9-9” — that cut through a fog of vague promises by other candidates.
But his dramatic jump from the bottom ranks to the top of the Republican field, vying for frontrunner status with former Massachusetts governor Romney by late October, came tumbling down just as swiftly.
His announcement came in the wake of repeated misconduct allegations, some of them graphic in detail, that undermined his image as a devout Christian family man.
First came Sharon Bialek, a woman from Chicago who accused Cain of groping her in a car in 1997 after she asked for help in finding a job when he was president of the National Restaurant Association, a trade lobby group.
A second accuser, Karen Kraushaar, then said she was one of two women who had settled a claim against Cain for sexual harassment back in the 1990s, when she was employed by the NRA.
But the final blow came this week, when an Atlanta businesswoman, Ginger White, said she and Cain recently ended a 13-year “sexual” extramarital affair.
Further complicating the matter, Cain said that his wife was unaware of the relationship, while insisting his friendship with White was purely platonic.
Cain’s plummeting numbers have opened the way for a surge by former House speaker Gingrich to the front of the Republican pack to take on Obama.
A poll by the Des Moines Register put Gingrich in front with 25 percent support from those likely to vote in Iowa’s caucuses on January 3, the event that kicks off the 2012 presidential nominating season.
Romney plunged to third place in that poll, with just 16 percent support, behind Texas congressman Ron Paul at 18 percent.