WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Atlanta businessman and former presidential candidate Herman Cain endorsed Newt Gingrich Saturday night at a West Palm Beach Country Republican gathering after two months of wavering on whether he would offer his support to a fellow candidate.
The endorsement comes just three days before the crucial Florida primary, by far the largest state to vote so far in the GOP sweepstakes, and could help Gingrich energize tea party support. Gingrich campaign has flagged since his upstart, double-digit victory over front-runner Mitt Romney in the South Carolina primary a week ago.
"I had it in my heart and mind a long time ago" to endorse Gingrich, Cain said in a surprise appearance at the dinner. "Speaker Gingrich is a patriot, Speaker Gingrich is not afraid of bold ideas, and I also know that Speaker Gingrich is ... 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."
Cain's ended his presidential bid in early December amid claims of sexual harrassement by several women who worked for him over the years and amid a charge from an Atlanta woman that the two carried on a longstanding marital affair. Until the allegations surfaced, Cain had been steadily gaining ground as a serious primary contender, attracting hundreds of people to his campaign events and winning over tea party activists with his outsider's message and calls for a "9-9-9" flat tax plan.
Cain and Gingrich walked onto stage together to a huge round of applause from the audience, whose excitement continued throughout the former candidate's brief remarks. As Gingrich took the stage after him, he joked that when he accepted the invitation to speak at the West Palm Beach County GOP Lincoln Dinner, he "had no idea it would be this interesting."
Gingrich's campaign can only hope that the support of the once-popular candidate will give a shot of life to his campaign, which is beginning to falter in Florida after a series of rough debates and nonstop attacks from Romney and a super PAC supporting Romney. But Cain's support may have lost his luster after nearly two months out off the campaign trail.
Always unpredictable, Cain had suggested as recently as last week in South Carolina that he would not endorse one of the remaining Republicans in the field. "Here is my unconventional endorsement. Not a candidate seeking the nomination. Not someone that's not running. My unconventional endorsement is the people! We the people of this nation are still in charge," he said.