Herman Cain announced Saturday that he is suspending his campaign for president, telling a crowd of supporters in his home state that the allegations of sexual harassment and infidelity had become too big a burden on his family.
His wife Gloria standing by his side in a rare public appearance, Cain decried the sustained accusations as false and declared he is "at peace" with his wife and with himself. But he said the claims have "sidetracked and distracted" from his ability to present a new vision for the country, as well as impacted his ability to raise money.
"I am suspending my presidential campaign because of the continued distraction, the continued hurt caused on me and my family," Cain said, adding that he reached the decision "with a lot of prayer and soul-searching."
Cain's exit leaves a slightly less-crowded race for the Republican nomination, with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney currently battling for top position in the polls, and several others trying to break through in the final weeks before the Iowa caucuses.
Cain made the announcement in Atlanta, at an event that was supposed to mark the opening of his Georgia campaign headquarters. While acknowledging that the crowd must be "disappointed," the businessman-turned-candidate tried to put a positive spin on the decision.
Cain, calling his bid for president "Plan A," said he's moving on to "Plan B" -- a new website called "cainsolutions.com" through which he said he'd be a "voice for the people."
"I am not going to be silenced and I am not going away," Cain said, adding that he would continue to push for his 9-9-9 tax reform plan and would also be making an endorsement in the Republican presidential primary.
Cain counted his unlikely surge in the polls weeks earlier as a victory of sorts, saying he ends the campaign "in the final four." Cain said he and his supporters were able to prove that "a common man could lead this nation."
"I'm one of you," he told the crowd in Georgia.
And he spoke with disdain about the media, the "political elites" and the process of running for president, one he called "a dirty game."
Cain said he takes "responsibility for the mistakes that I've made," but scolded the media for pursuing what he described as "false and unproved allegations" which created a "cloud of doubt" over him and his family.
"That spin hurts," Cain said. "It hurts my wife. It hurts my family. It hurts me."
Cain made the announcement after consulting with his family. If he reached a decision beforehand, he kept his intentions close to the vest. The atmosphere at the campaign event Saturday in Georgia was festive before Cain's arrival.
He said at a South Carolina campaign stop Friday that he wouldn't let anybody make him reach a decision "prematurely." Cain said he "doesn't doubt the support" that he has, but that he has to put his family first.
While campaign aides had given the impression of a campaign in full swing, scheduling a slew of rallies in key battleground states in the run-up to his announcement, the candidate's numbers have taken a dive.
Gingrich has soared in the polls, while Cain had fallen back into the territory now occupied by other former frontrunners who lost their luster among primary voters.
Cain's meeting with his wife Friday was the first time they had seen each other face to face since 46-year-old Ginger White came forward on Monday and said she and the Republican had carried on a 13-year relationship.
Cain has denied having an affair with White. On Friday night, even as Cain weighed whether his campaign would move on, volunteers were busy tacking up signs at his headquarters and a contingent of Secret Service agents was inspecting the site in advance of Cain's arrival there.
Cain, the former Godfather's Pizza chief executive who has never held elected office, rose to become an unexpected front-runner in the volatile Republican race just weeks ago. A self-styled outsider, Cain enjoyed strong tea party support from conservatives who viewed him as an alternative to Mitt Romney. His charisma on the campaign trail drew large and enthusiastic crowds.
But under the glare of the national spotlight he fumbled policy questions, leaving questions about 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.
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, down from 23 percent a month ago.
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.