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As support dives, Cain says he'll announce plans today

ATLANTA — Rapidly becoming a mere footnote in the presidential race, Herman Cain said he would make a "major announcement" today on whether he would abandon his beleaguered White House bid after a woman's allegation of an extramarital affair.

The announcement was expected at an event still being billed as the grand opening of a new headquarters.

It is the latest twist in a campaign saga that has taken the Georgia businessman from unknown long shot to surprise front-runner to embattled tabloid subject.

He arrived at his suburban Atlanta home on Friday afternoon to talk with his wife of 42 years, Gloria, about whether to press on after his campaign was rocked by multiple sexual harassment allegations and this week's claim that he had a 13-year affair. He denies wrongdoing. It was the couple's first face-to-face meeting since the allegation of the affair was made public.

Earlier Friday, in a speech in Rock Hill, S.C., Cain wouldn't disclose whether he would drop out but told supporters to stay tuned. He said he would clarify the next steps of the campaign and assured backers the affair claim was "garbage." But he also said he needed to consider what he would do with campaign donations already banked if he dropped out of the race.

"Nobody's going to make me make that prematurely," Cain told a crowd of about 100 people. "That's all there is to it.

"My wife and family comes first. I've got to take that into consideration. I don't doubt the support that I have. Just look at the people who are here."

Cain had not seen his wife since Ginger White, 46, of Atlanta came forward and said she had a sexual affair with Cain that lasted more than a decade. He has said they were only friends but acknowledged that he helped pay her monthly bills and expenses. His wife, Cain said, did not know of the friendship with White.

The former Godfather's pizza executive said he is reassessing whether his presidential bid is still viable. But it was difficult to imagine a path forward with just a month until the lead-off Iowa caucuses.

Polls suggest his popularity has taken a deep hit.

A Des Moines Register poll released Friday showed Cain's support plummeting, with backing from 8 percent of Republican caucus participants 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.

"I need to know that you are behind me 100 percent," Cain told backers. "In today's political environment, the only way we can gauge true support is by the willingness of our supporters to invest in this effort."

A political novice, Cain leveraged strong tea party support to hurtle to the front of the Republican pack in October, casting himself as an antiestablishment outsider. His catchy 9-9-9 tax overhaul proposal helped his rise. But his effort soon lost altitude.

He fumbled policy questions, and his campaign has been reeling since it was revealed a little more than a month ago that the National Restaurant Association 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 his campaign was taking some steps to blunt the drumbeat of allegations.

It unveiled a "Women for Herman Cain" Web page with testimonials from female backers, some urging him to stay in the race. It was led by Gloria Cain.

The candidate's wife — who has not been on the campaign trail — has drawn her own support as the allegations against her husband have piled up.

The Facebook page "I Stand With Gloria Cain" had attracted more than 400 supporters by Friday afternoon.

On Friday, Cain urged backers in South Carolina to look past the allegations.

Word of a pending announcement took some aides by surprise. "I am learning this as you're learning it," said Cain's Iowa campaign chairman, Steve Grubbs.

As of Friday afternoon, Cain was scheduled to participate in the two Iowa debates this month, hold a media announcement in Iowa on Dec. 12 and tour the state later in the month.

Georgia supporters set to attend today's event in Atlanta — billed as a headquarters celebration — were taken aback by the news that an announcement was coming.

"I have heard nothing," said state Sen. Josh McKoon, a prominent Cain backer who will stand with him today.

As support dives, Cain says he'll announce plans today 12/02/11 [Last modified: Saturday, December 3, 2011 12:13am]
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