URBANDALE, Iowa Republican White House hopeful Herman Cain's decision to pull out of the presidential race on Saturday brought Iowa resident Patti Spencer Burdette to tears.
"I always thought we were going for the win," the 56-year-old Des Moines woman said. "I've been preaching the gospel of Herman Cain."
Spencer Burdette was among the handful of Cain volunteers who showed up at his Urbandale, Iowa, headquarters following the candidate's announcement 900 hundred miles away in Atlanta. She came not to coordinate volunteers or distribute signs, as she had done for months, but to grieve with fellow supporters.
"There's unhappiness in the family, and we have come to be with the family," she said, wearing a campaign T-shirt.
Cain's staff of four in Iowa and local volunteers learned of his exit from the race the same way most Americans did, via a livestream broadcast on the Web.
Rumors of the campaign's demise had been flying fast following accusations of sexual misconduct and stumbles on the trail. The Iowa Poll, conducted for The Des Moines Register, showed Cain's support at 8 percent among likely Republican caucus-goers this week, down from 23 percent in late October.
Still, staffers began the day on Saturday with an eye toward Iowa's January 3 caucuses, which lead off the contests to choose the party presidential nominee to challenge Democratic President Barack Obama in the November 2012 election.
Lisa Lockwood, the Cain campaign's Iowa communications director, was at her computer planning events for later this month. Two other staffers rearranged office furniture in anticipation of an influx of national staff and volunteers ahead of the caucuses.
There were large stacks of freshly delivered campaign signs propped against walls, and a volunteer brought in a small Christmas tree for some holiday spirit.
"Business as usual," Lockwood said.
But after hearing Cain, a former Godfather's Pizza chief executive, say he was suspending his campaign because of "false and unproved" sexual allegations, Lockwood was among those in the building to express both disappointment and anger.
"I think he would have been an awesome president," she said.
She blamed the media for not doing more to investigate the motivations of the several women who accused Cain of sexual harassment and the woman who this week said she had been involved in a 13-year affair with him.
"I think there's more to the story with these people popping out of nowhere," Lockwood said.
Supporters were reluctant to name a candidate, if any, who might get their support, and there was talk of a write-in campaign for Cain.
"My phone has been ringing off the hook with people outraged that the media pushed him out," said Steven Hensler, the campaign's phone bank director in Iowa. "We're still going to try to get him on the ballot."
Cain indicated on Saturday that he would endorse another candidate. Several supporters at the Iowa office said his endorsement decision could influence their vote.
"My life has been enriched because of that man," Spencer Burdette said.
(Editing by Greg McCune)