ATLANTA -- An unapologetic and defiant Herman Cain suspended his presidential campaign Saturday, pledging that he "would not go away," even as he abandoned hope of winning the Republican nomination in the face of escalating accusations of sexual misconduct.
"As of today, with a lot of prayer and soul searching, I am suspending my presidential campaign," Mr. Cain said at a rally here, surrounded by supporters chanting his name. "Because of the continued distractions, the continued hurt caused on me and my family, not because we are not fighters. Not because I'm not a fighter."
In suspending his candidacy, as opposed to saying that he was quitting the race or ending his bid, Mr. Cain maintained his ability to accept money to pay for his campaign so far and to finance the new venture that he called his Plan B: to travel the country promoting his tax and foreign policy plans. If Mr. Cain had decided to formally close his campaign organization, he would not be able to use donations that may come in.
The collapse of Mr. Cain's candidacy, which took off despite his eclectic background as a former pizza executive with virtually no political experience, eliminated another Republican candidate who had briefly led in the polls and drew voters who were unhappy with the assumed frontrunner, Mitt Romney. Newt Gingrich, who is now rising in the polls, could well benefit from Mr. Cain's exit.
Mr. Cain said he would issue an endorsement soon, without indicating whom he would back.
Mr. Cain, with his wife, Gloria, at his side at the Atlanta rally, said the accusations of sexual harassment and of a 13-year affair were untrue. "I'm at peace with my God," he said. "I'm at peace with my wife, and she is at peace with me."
Mr. Cain, whose standing among likely Republican caucusgoers in Iowa in the latest poll by The Des Moines Register stood at 8 percent, took what may be his last moment in such a large spotlight to denounce the political culture in Washington.
Mr. Cain's admirers in Atlanta were surprised and disappointed. They blamed the news media, with one of them screaming into the press area after Mr. Cain's speech.
Lisa Chambers, 48, an unpaid volunteer with the campaign from Snellville, Ga., said: "This is not what I wanted. Not at all. I'm not sure what to do now. I'm so disappointed."
But other supporters were more pragmatic. Dean Kleckner, a former president of the Iowa Farm Bureau, who gave Mr, Cain an early endorsement, said: "I hate to say this, because he was a remarkable man in many ways, but I honestly think he did the right thing. I'm disappointed in a way, relieved in a way. The polls were just killing him lately."
Mr. Cain's political unraveling was as swift and sudden as his ascent. It began just one month after an unlikely surge in the polls, from the bottom ranks to the top tier of Republican candidates, fueled by the strength of his performance in debates, the novelty of his 9-9-9 tax plan, and his Sept. 24 surprise victory in the Florida straw poll.
With his golden voice and folksy manner, Mr. Cain appealed to voters who sought an anti-establishment candidate. Mr. Cain, 65, grew up in poverty in the segregated South, the son of a janitor and a maid. But beyond his personal charm and rags-to-riches biography, he had an eclectic, intriguing resume: chief executive of Godfather's Pizza, conservative radio host and chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Mo.
Toward the end of October, more than one survey found that Mr. Cain, who has never held public office, essentially tied with Mr. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who has had a consistent lead in most polls.
The accusations of sexual misconduct rocked the campaign of a candidate who professed to be a devout Christian and family man, pitching himself to the conservative core of the Republican Party, stood accused by several women of a pattern of lewd sexual behavior. And some of the details were graphic.
A Chicago woman, Sharon Bialek, was the first to come forward publicly. Ms. Bialek said that Mr. Cain made an unwanted and rough physical advance on her 14 years ago when he was the chief of the National Restaurant Association, a lobbying group. After taking her out for a night on the town in Washington, she said, he suggested she engage with him sexually in return for his assistance in finding a job.
Within days, a second woman came forward. That woman, Karen Kraushaar, 55, worked in the government affairs office of the restaurant association for a relatively short time from 1998 to 1999, her tenure being cut short, she said, by her run-ins with Mr. Cain and the discomfort they created for her.
Two other women who complained of harassment by Mr. Cain remained anonymous. But one of those women and Ms. Kraushaar each received the equivalent of a year's salary in settlements from the restaurant group.
From the moment the harassment accusations were revealed by Politico, on the night of Oct. 30, Mr. Cain has strongly proclaimed his innocence and sought to cast blame for what he called a smear campaign in a number of different directions. He first accused the liberal news media, then the rival campaign of Gov. Rick Perry of Texas. Ultimately, the Cain campaign acknowledged that it had no evidence of a conspiracy. But still, Mr. Cain's own version of events surrounding the accusations shifted again and again. Inexperienced on the national stage, he issued an avalanche of confusing and often contradictory statements.
But the accusations of sexual misconduct were not Mr. Cain's only stumbling block.
The very qualities that endeared Mr. Cain to so many conservatives appeared to be beginning to undercut his chances, as questions were raised about his management style and foreign policy expertise.