ATLANTA (AP) — The Cain train has come to a stop.
Herman Cain suspended his bid for the Republican presidential nomination on Saturday following a steady drumbeat of sexual misconduct allegations he said were harming his family and drowning out his ability to deliver his message.
With just one month to go until the lead-off Iowa caucuses, Cain's announcement is tantamount to a concession. Still, he told supporters, he planned to continue his efforts to influence Washington and announced "Plan B" — what he called a grassroots effort to return government to the people.
Cain denounced the accusations of impropriety against him as "false and unproven" but said that they had been hurtful to his family, particularly his wife, Gloria.
"So as of today, with a lot of prayer and soul-searching, I am suspending my presidential campaign. I am suspending my presidential campaign because of the continued distractions and the continued hurt caused on me and my family," a tired-looking Cain told about a 400 supporters.
It was a remarkable turnabout for a man that just weeks ago vaulted out of nowhere to the top of the GOP field, fueled by a populist, outsider appeal and his catchy 9-9-9 tax overhaul plan.
Saturday's event was a bizarre piece of political theater even for a campaign that has seemed to thrive on defying convention.
Cain marked the end of his bid at what was supposed to be the grand opening of his new campaign headquarters in Atlanta. Minutes before he took the stage to pull the plug with his wife, Gloria, at his side, aides and supporters took to the podium to urge attendees to vote for Cain and travel to early voting states to rev up support for his bid.
"Join the Cain train," David McCleary, Cain's Georgia director, urged the audience.
Cain said he would offer an endorsement in the near future and he predicted a scramble among Republicans in the field to win the backing of his conservative, tea party base.
Former GOP rivals quickly issued statements Saturday praising Cain's conservative credentials and appeal. His withdrawal could help those seeking to run as an alternative to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, seen by some as too moderate.
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.
"Now, I have made many mistakes in life. Everybody has. I've made mistakes professionally, personally, as a candidate, in terms of how I run my campaign. And I take responsibility for the mistakes I've made, and I have been the very first to own up to any mistakes I've made," he said.
But Cain intoned: "I am at peace with my God. I am at peace with my wife. And she is at peace with me."
Cain, the former Godfather's Pizza chief executive who has never held elected office, rose just weeks ago to lead the volatile Republican race. But 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, and continued to do so Saturday.
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 caucusgoers in Iowa, compared with 23 percent a month ago.
But Cain said Saturday he would not go away and would continue trying to influence Washington from the outside,
He announced the formation of CainSolutions.com, which he said was a grassroots effort to bring government back to the people.
"I am not going to be silenced, and I am not going away. And therefore, as of today, Plan B. Plan B," he said.