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Where will Cain's supporters go now?

By Tom Cohen, CNN
updated 6:08 PM EST, Mon December 5, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Cain says he will not be making an endorsement any time soon
  • Republican rivals are vying for the departed candidate's backers to join them
  • Conservative candidates say they are the logical choice for Cain's supporters

Washington (CNN) -- In the wake of Herman Cain's decision to halt his presidential campaign, the main questions are who will he endorse, will his supporters follow his lead, and will it matter?

The answer to the first question became a bit murkier Monday than it had seemed at first. Cain said Saturday after announcing the suspension of his Republican presidential bid that he would announce an endorsement in a few days.

But on Monday he told former staffers that his endorsement was not likely to come in the next several days, according to a source with knowledge of a Cain conference call.

On the call, Cain said he would weigh his options carefully and would not rush to endorse one of his former opponents, the source said.

The answer to the second question was initially unclear and remained that way Monday. And as for the final question, figuring out whether Cain's supporters will follow suit may indeed not matter amid the dilution of a dwindling support base, some say.

"This is a very fluid race," Republican strategist Karen Hanratty told CNN on Monday. "And you know, I don't think that Herman Cain is going to be a game-changer in this primary election."

Jim Geraghty, a columnist for National Review Online, also noted that the "Cain bandwagon is significantly smaller than a month ago."

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Recent polls show Cain's support has plummeted from his front-runner status of several weeks ago following allegations of sexual harassment and a long-running affair in his past.

Cain has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, but he acknowledged his campaign contributions have dried up and said he was effectively ending his campaign to prevent further pain to his family from what he called false allegations.

His departure has rivals waiting with open arms for his supporters to shift to them. While current Republican frontrunner Newt Gingrich is considered a favorite to get Cain's endorsement, others are touting their credentials.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul, the libertarian champion who gets strong tea party backing, said he is a natural fit for the Cain crowd.

"There are a lot of people who call themselves tea party people that did like the independent-mindedness of Herman Cain," Paul told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday. "So I think that we'll probably do better, even though some people are saying, 'oh, no, they're all going to go to so-and-so.' "

Paul said his campaign will pay "a lot of attention to that, because obviously they're going to go somewhere in the next week or so."

"That's going to happen," he said. "So I'm optimistic that we'll pick up some votes from there."

Opinion: Cain is not a victim

On the same program, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann argued she is attracting nomadic Cain followers.

"One thing that we've seen is that a lot of Herman Cain supporters have been calling our office, and they've been coming over to our side," Bachmann said. "I think part of that is because people see that I'm the tea party candidate in the race. They saw Herman Cain as an outsider, and I think they see that my voice will be the one that would be most reflective of his."

Bachmann also cited the changing nature of the Republican race, calling it "the up-and-down political Wall Street," which means trailing candidates -- like herself -- still have a chance to quickly change their fortunes, she said.

Reporter's Notebook: The rise and fall of Herman Cain

Gingrich, a former House Speaker, has surged in recent polling, passing consistent top-tier contender Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor.

John Avlon, a CNN contributor and senior political writer for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, cited a recent CNN poll that showed 38% of Herman Cain voters would likely go to Gingrich.

That outcome would help Gingrich galvanize the anti-Romney Republican vote as the primary season prepares to kick off on January 3 with the Iowa caucuses. Other polls show Gingrich already leading in Iowa and starting to chip into Romney's formidable lead in New Hampshire, which holds its primary on January 10.

"This is likely to formalize that movement" for Gingrich, Avlon told CNN. "I think Ron Paul and Bachmann are both hoping for a bit of a bump here as well, but it makes sense that Newt would get the benefit from the bulk of Cain supporters looking for an alternative."

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