'Life Can Be A Challenge': Cain Suspends Run

Herman Cain is a presidential candidate no more. Cain's campaign was always unconventional, and just as he made his unlikely rise to front-runner status, he was enveloped in controversy about alleged inappropriate behavior with women. His campaign never recovered. NPR's Tamara Keith looks back at his campaign.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Herman Cain delivered his views to at Atlanta crowd of disappointed supporters.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

HERMAN CAIN: With a lot of prayer and soul searching, I am suspending my presidential campaign.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD REACTION)

CORNISH: It was the last stop on the always unconventional journey for the former pizza chain CEO.

NPR's Tamara Keith has this look back at the Cain Train.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: When political consultants looked at Herman Cain's campaign, there was a lot of head scratching. They wondered, was he serious or was this a book tour, elaborately disguised as a presidential run. While most candidates were focused on the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, Cain spent most of his time elsewhere.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL SPEECHES)

CAIN: I am the Herman Cain at The Ohio State University.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CAIN: I'm thrilled to be here, thrilled to be in Alabama. It's not my first time here at Hillsdale and it will not be my last time here at Hillsdale.

KEITH: That would be Hillsdale College in Michigan, which holds its primary at the end of February, after votes will have been cast in nine other states. Cain was there to give a major foreign policy address, which he started with this:

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL SPEECHES)

CAIN: Life can be a challenge. Life can seem impossible. It's never easy when there's so much on the line.

KEITH: If you happen to have kids obsessed with Pokemon, then this inspiring line might sound familiar. It's the opening of "The Pokemon Movie's" theme song, sung by Donna Summer.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE THEME SONG, "POKEMON")

DONNA SUMMER: (Singing) Life can be a challenge. Life can seem impossible...

KEITH: The words are the same. Cain said he didn't know the author. And even after news organizations picked up on the Pokemon connection, Cain kept using the line.

Cain's campaign took off after a string of strong debate performances, like this Fox News debate in September.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL DEBATE)

CAIN: This economy is on life support. That is why my 9-9-9 plan is a bold solution.

KEITH: His 9-9-9 tax plan had a name so catchy it could have been a pizza promotion, and envisioned a drastic change to taxation.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL DEBATE)

CAIN: It starts with throw out the current tax code and pass the nine percent....

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

CAIN: ...nine percent business flat tax, the 9 percent personal income tax and the nine percent national sales tax.

KEITH: Tax experts said it would mean higher taxes for low and middle-income Americans. Conservatives didn't like that it created a new national sales tax. Cain said they were all wrong. And polls showed Republican primary voters appeared to agree with him. Cain rose to the top of the GOP pack.

Then, sexual harassment allegations emerged, and more - dating back to when he was CEO of the National Restaurant Association.

JOEL BENNETT: In 1999, I was retained by a female employee of the National Restaurant Association concerning several instances of sexual harassment by the then-CEO.

SHARON BIALEK: And he put his hand on my leg, under my skirt.

GINGER WHITE: I was aware that he was married and I was also aware that I was involved in a very inappropriate situation.

KEITH: That was attorney Joel Bennett. Sharon Bialek, and Ginger White who was on Fox 5 Atlanta. She claimed a 13-year extramarital affair with Cain. Two other women, who were not named, also accused him of sexual harassment. Cain vehemently denied all of the allegations.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS TV SHOW)

CAIN: This is a direct character assassination, pure and simple.

KEITH: That was Cain on Fox News Channel after White had come forward. At various times, as the scandals swirled, Cain blamed other campaigns, the liberal media, and a conspiracy, either by Democrats or the political establishment.

Here he is again on Fox.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS TV SHOW)

CAIN: As long as I was still low in the polls relative to the republican nomination this stuff didn't come out. It was only after I got in the top tier and lo and behold, there it came, and in every case they have not been able to prove that the accusations were true.

KEITH: Crisis communications experts widely panned his campaign's response, even calling it malpractice. But what really had campaign watchers scratching their heads was Cain's meeting with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board. There he made a painful gaffe when asked whether he agreed with President Obama's handling of Libya.

CAIN: OK, Libya.

KEITH: Cain closed his eyes and turned his head to the ceiling.

CAIN: I do not agree with the way he handled it for the following reasons. No, that's a different one.

KEITH: He ultimately came up with an answer, but it took a very long time. His campaign claimed he was tired. Outside observers wondered why he was even in Wisconsin, which doesn't hold its primary until April. Cain was in Green Bay that night to attend a Packers game, when an NBC reporter asked him about the Libya brain freeze.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Mr. Cain, do you think the Libya comments reinforce the idea that you don't have thorough understanding of foreign policy?

CAIN: 9-9-9.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KEITH: He smiled at the camera and walked away. Yesterday, as he gave the speech ending his campaign, Herman Cain wrapped up with the Pokemon lyrics: Life can be a challenge, life can seem impossible. It's never easy, when there's so much on the line.

Tamara Keith, NPR News.

CORNISH: You're listening to NPR News.

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