But, he said, after “a lot of prayer and soul searching I am suspending my presidential campaign because of the continued distraction, the continued hurt caused on me and my family.” Cain also cited difficulty in raising enough money to remain competitive.
Cain’s decision is the latest twist in a Republican primary contest that has been marked by a search for a conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, the establishment favorite.
After a string of impressive debate performances, Cain assumed that role in late September. But amid mounting allegations and a series of gaffes, much of his support has shifted in recent weeks to former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who has joined Romney atop the polls.
The question now is where the rest of Cain’s backing goes. Asked in an interview in Iowa last week if he would pick up Cain’s supporters, Gingrich responded: “Oh, sure.”
The Gingrich campaign moved quickly to appeal to Cain supporters on Saturday, praising his ideas immediately after he announced the suspension of his campaign. Gingrich himself lauded Cain a short while later at a Staten Island event, saying that he “deserves credit for having the courage to talk about big ideas and focus on the economy.”
But there is also evidence that Romney could benefit from Cain’s departure. A Pew poll conducted before Thanksgiving showed that Cain supporters split evenly between the former Massachusetts governor and Gingrich when asked for their second choice.
Romney said during a campaign event in New Hampshire on Saturday that he hopes Cain backers “give us a good, careful look. . . . I hope, as they evaluate the various candidates, they will find I’m the leader the world needs.”
A spokeswoman for Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), who enjoyed a brief moment atop the polls in the summer, said Cain’s campaign had been in touch with the congresswoman. “We have received numerous calls and e-mails from his supporters, and we are are happy to have them,” Alice Stewart said.
Cain gave no indication on Saturday who was his second choice for president, but he said he will endorse one of his former rivals “in the near future.”
An unlikely candidate
In a Republican nominating contest that has see-sawed from one frontrunner to another, Cain, 65, was perhaps the unlikeliest to rise to the top of the pack. A former pizza executive with no political experience, little campaign organization to speak of and a schedule tailored more to selling books than winning votes, Cain nevertheless captured the hearts of Republican voters with a clear message, confidently delivered.
“I’m upset. I feel like the other side won, their dirty tricks,” said Marelli Gardner, a health-care coordinator and tea party activist from Cummings, Ga., who drove 45 minutes and waited two hours to hear Cain speak on Saturday. She left before his remarks were over. “A lot of people had a lot of hope in Herman Cain.”