Former Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain addresses the South… (Mladen Antonov / AFP/Getty…)
Herman Cain, the charismatic former pizza chief executive and one-time presidential candidate, endorsed Newt Gingrich in the GOP race for the nomination on Friday, a nod that could provide a boost to the former House Speaker in the crucial Florida primary that is just days away.
“I had it in my heart and mind a long time ago,” Cain said, speaking to Republicans gathered for a fundraiser in West Palm Beach. “One of the biggest reasons is the fact that I know that Speaker Gingrich is a patriot. Speaker Gingrich is not afraid of bold ideas.”
Cain was an unlikely presidential candidate, never having held elected office, but the businessman's charm won over Republican voters, and he was briefly the front-runner until accusations of sexual harassment, groping and a 13-year affair forced him from the race in December. Cain alluded to this scrutiny when he endorsed Gingrich.
“Going through this sausage grinder, I know what this sausage grinder is all about. I know that he’s going through this sausage grinder because he cares about the future of the United States of America,” he said. “We all do.”
Cain and Gingrich have known each other for more than two decades, and were warm toward each other on the campaign trail last year.
The GOP race has continued its wild gyrations. Gingrich surged in South Carolina, winning the last primary before heading to Florida. But his momentum has slowed here and rival Mitt Romney has retaken front-runner status. It’s unclear what impact Cain’s endorsement would have, but similar moves on Gingrich’s behalf by Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin just days before the South Carolina primary provided a critical boost and helped coalesce conservative voters around Gingrich in the Palmetto State.
If reaction at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach is any gauge, it may be helpful. The dinner attendees, who were scheduled to see Gingrich speak but did not receive word Cain would be at the event, rose to their feet and roared when he entered the ballroom, delivering sustained applause.
“It’s a big moment,” declared a giddy Gay Hart Gaines, trustee of the Palm Beach County Republican Party, which was in the midst of its Lincoln Day Dinner when Cain made his impromptu appearance.
“Surprise, surprise,” Cain said as he took the stage, pumping his fists in the air.
He told them that the nation is at a pivotal moment.
“We have become a nation of crises,” Cain said. “And it’s not going to get any better until we solve point number three, and that’s a crisis of leadership in the White House. That is our other biggest crisis.”
He said this election was about future generations.
“Allow me to leave you with this: I am inspired, you are inspired, Speaker Gingrich is inspired because it’s not about us. It’s about the grandkids,” he said, noting that his fourth grandchild had been born on New Year’s Day. “And before he took his first breath, the debt was nearly $50,000 for every man, woman and child living in America. That’s why we need a real leader in the White House.”
Gingrich said he was grateful to have Cain’s backing.
“America’s challenges are too great for mere tinkering around the edges. Just like Herman, who ran his campaign based on big ideas, I am running on bold solutions that will boost job creation, cut bureaucratic red tape, and fundamentally transform Washington,” Gingrich said in a statement. “I’m honored to have Herman’s support, and I look forward to working with him to help put the American people back to work.
Mehta reported from Tampa, Fla. Geiger reported from Washington, D.C.