Faced with accusations of an extramarital affair and a past of sexual misconduct, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain announced Saturday he is suspending his campaign for the White House as LGBT groups on the right and left say he needed to move aside.
The former Godfather’s Pizza CEO made the announcement at his Atlanta campaign headquarters amid media reports that was reassessing whether to stay in the race.
“As of today, with a lot of prayer and soul-searching, I am suspending my presidential campaign,” Cain said. “I am suspending my presidential campaign because of the continued distraction, the continued hurt caused on me and my family.”
Cain said becoming president for him was “Plan A,” and under “Plan B,” he will continue to be “a voice for the people” and articulate policy ideas on his new website, TheCainSolutions.com.
According to Slate political correspondent John Dickerson, by suspending his presidential bid as opposed to ending it, Cain is eligible for federal matching funds for his campaign.
The pizza magnate exited the race after Ginger White, an Atlanta businesswoman, announced in a TV interview this week that she had engaged in a 13-year affair with Cain. In October, Politico reported that at least two women had accused him of sexual misconduct while head of the National Restaurant Association in 1990s. Cain has denied any wrongdoing.
For a time in October, Cain had enjoyed front-runner status in the GOP presidential race, but he fell to the bottom of the pack after the initial reporting of allegations of sexual misconduct. Now former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich has claimed the title of front-runner, although former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney remains the best funded Republican in the race.
Cain was best known in this campaign for what he called his “9-9-9″ plan for tax reform, which would replace the current tax code with a 9 percent personal income tax, a 9 percent business transactions tax, and a 9 percent federal sales tax.
Gay Republican groups had praised Cain’s ability to initiate discussion on tax reform with his plan, but shared the sentiment that the time was now for him to move aside.
Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud, said he was sorry to see Cain leave because of his emphasis on economic issues.
“Herman Cain’s laser focus on jobs, the economy, the size of government, and all the issues most important to all of us was good for the debate,” LaSalvia said. “I’m sorry to see him out of the race, but it was clear that his campaign could not go on.”
Christian Berle, deputy executive director for National Log Cabin Republicans, said Cain’s decision to leave the race enables Republicans to find the best candidate to beat President Obama.
“Herman Cain’s decision to step aside allows the primary process to move forward and enables the Republican field to continue its focus on the issues voters care about — jobs and the economy,” Berle said. “A Republican in the White House is going to get our economy and our nation moving in the right direction.”
On LGBT issues, Cain was initially distinct among other Republican candidates because he declined to support a Federal Marriage Amendment that would ban same-sex marriage throughout the country and said the matter should be left to the states.
Also, unlike Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) or former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, Cain said he has no problem with open gays in the military and wouldn’t seek to reinstate “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
But Cain apparently later shifted his position on the Federal Marriage Amendment when he said marriage “should be protected at the federal level also” and he would back legislation defining it as one man, one woman.
In a January radio interview, Cain also said he’d veto the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The candidate also came under fire in October for saying that he believes homosexuality is a choice and science hasn’t proven otherwise.
Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said Cain’s exit from the race is appropriate from someone who chose to side with anti-gay forces.
“It never ceases to surprise me how those who throw LGBT people under the bus are often the ones run over by the same bus,” Sainz said. “Often confused on his own positions, Cain eventually chose to side with anti-LGBT forces. The fact his run ends because of his own moral failings is ironic but unfortunately altogether too common among this field of Republican presidential candidates.”
Jerame Davis, interim executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, said Cain demonstrated over the course of his campaign he “just doesn’t have the policy chops” to lead the country.
“Now, with these revelations about his past that make Newt Gingrich look like a model husband, he has little choice but to switch to ‘Plan B,’” Davis said. “It’s too bad ‘Plan B’ is just a rehash of ‘Plan A’ without the presidential aspirations.”
One lingering question is where Cain’s support in the Republican presidential race will go now that he’s made an exit — or if the former candidate will endorse another Republican in the race.
Dan Pinello, a gay political science professor at the City University of New York, said Cain’s exit will have “minimal effect on the presidential election” because he didn’t have the strength in the polls he once enjoyed.
According to a poll published Thursday by Rasmussen Reports, Cain had support from just 8 percent of likely voters in the Republican primary.
Still, Pinello predicted that what little support Cain had would shift to Gingrich as social conservatives continue to push against handing Romney the Republican banner in 2012.
“As a result, the Gingrich-Romney match-up will be more competitive than it would have been had Cain remained in the game,” Pinello said. “Thus, what so far has been a Republican free-for-all will quickly transform into a two-person slugfest for the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.”