ATLANTA — Republican candidate Herman Cain announced Saturday that he is suspending his bid for the Republican presidential nomination to avoid continued news coverage of allegations of sexual misconduct that is hurtful to his family.
"I am suspending my presidential campaign because of the continued distractions and the continued hurt caused on me and my family," Cain told several hundred supporters gathered at what was to have been the opening of his national campaign headquarters. The space was rented when Cain was surprisingly leading the Republican pack.
Cain's announcement came five days after an Atlanta-area woman claimed she and Cain had an affair for more than a decade, a claim that followed several allegations of sexual harassment against the Georgia businessman.
"But because of these false and unproved accusations, it has paid and had a tremendous painful price on my family," Cain said, with his wife, Gloria, standing behind him on the stage.
"Now here's why it hurts — because my wife, my family and I, we know that those false and unproved allegations are not true. 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."
Whether Cain would stay in the race or drop out was the subject of speculation throughout the week. Even some top supporters who had spoken with Cain were arriving Saturday unsure what he would say.
Cain returned to his suburban Atlanta home Friday and met with his wife. It was the first time they have seen each other face to face since 46-year-old Ginger White came forward on Monday, and said she and Herman Cain had carried on a 13-year relationship.
Cain has denied having an affair with White. He said the concern over the toll the allegations were having on his family as well as a candid assessment of whether his campaign could still attract the needed support would inform his decision on whether to press ahead.
Cain, the former Godfather's Pizza chief executive, has never held elected office, but rose to become an unexpected front-runner in the volatile Republican race just weeks ago. A self-styled outsider, Cain enjoyed strong support from conservatives in the anti-tax tea party movement who viewed him as an alternative to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. His catchy 9-9-9 tax overhaul proposal — a 9 percent tax on income, a 9 percent business tax and a 9 percent national sales tax.
But once in the national spotlight, Cain fumbled policy questions, leaving some to wonder whether he was ready for the presidency. Then it was revealed at the end of October that the National Restaurant Association had paid settlements to two women who claimed Cain sexually harassed them while he was president of the organization.
A third woman told The Associated Press that Cain made inappropriate sexual advances but that she didn't file a complaint. A fourth woman also stepped forward to accuse Cain of groping her in a car in 1997.
Cain has denied wrongdoing in all cases.
The main beneficiary of Cain's fall has been former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, who has risen steadily in polls nationally and in early voting states. Gingrich has emerged as the main challenger to fellow front-runner Mitt Romney in the Republican race to take on President Barack Obama next year.
Polls suggest his popularity has suffered. A Des Moines Register poll released Friday showed Cain's support plunging, with backing from 8 percent of Republican caucus-goers in Iowa, compared with 23 percent a month ago. The Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3 kick off the state-by-state contests to choose delegates to the party's national nominating convention.
Fundraising has also fallen off. He issued an email appeal to supporters on Friday asking for donations, in an attempt to gauge whether his financial support has dried up.
On Friday, Cain urged backers in South Carolina to look past the allegations.
"There's a lot of garbage on the Internet. There's a lot of garbage out there on the TV. There's a lot of garbage out there about me, don't you know? There's a lot of misinformation out there. You have to stay informed and check out the facts for yourself," Cain said.
He added: "I'm on this journey for a reason. I don't look back."
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