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Iowa reacts to the Cain train derailment

URBANDALE, IA -- The announcement by former Godfathers Pizza CEO Herman Cain that he is suspending his run for president exactly one month before the Iowa caucuses drew wistful reactions today from top Iowa staffers and volunteers.

"The Cain train has been derailed today," Cain's Iowa Chairman Steve Grubbs told NBC News during an on-camera interview shortly after Cain's announcement, which was delivered from Atlanta, GA.

Grubbs, who joined the campaign right after Cain began his rise in the polls, said he was "disappointed" his candidate dropped out, but noted recent scandals took the presidential hopeful away from his message.

"Boy, what I would have given for a couple of drama-free weeks just to focus on message and organization," Grubbs said.

Cain received weeks of scrutiny over a possible extramarital affair and sexual-harassment allegations against him, though he denied the claims. The most recent allegation -- and, it seems final straw for his campaign -- came two weeks ago, when Ginger White accused the Georgia businessman of engaging in a 13-year affair with her. Cain said the two were merely friends and he helped her financially, although he later revealed to the media he never informed his wife of 43 years, Gloria, that he was helping White.

Neither Grubbs nor other Iowa campaign staff knew what Cain would say when he took the podium at what was billed as an event marking the opening of his Georgia headquarters.

"I'm the Iowa communications director for Iowa, but I know nothing," said Lisa Lockwood, a staffer in Cain's state headquarters here in Urbandale, shortly before the announcement.

Lockwood watched Cain's announcement stream in live on her laptop as a gaggle of reporters looked on. 

"I'm surprised, I'm disappointed," Lockwood said afterward, visibly choked up. "I think he's an awesome man, and I think he would have been awesome president."

Outside Lockwood's office, the headquarters had the feel of a campaign abruptly interrupted. Three-thousand yard signs had just been delivered to the office Tuesday night.

State director Larry Tuel said cubicles for phone banks had been installed only days ago.

"I like a fight, and I think Herman Cain does, too," Tuel said. "I wanted to stay in, because I think we could do well in Iowa.

One supporter, Patti Spencer Burdette, said she spent all day Friday delivering signs for the campaign. 

"We love him, and he loves us," Burdette said. "Were a family. And there's sadness in the family."

But outside his family of stalwart volunteers, support for Cain has dropped in Iowa since the allegations came to light. A new Des Moines Register Iowa poll shows Herman Cain polling at just 8% among likely caucus-goers. This is down from the 23% of support he received in the Register's October poll.

Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn told NBC News Cain's that withdrawal -- 30 days before the caucuses -- adds yet more uncertainty to a very fluid and crowded race.

"I think there is a huge opportunity for those Herman Cain supporters to find a home behind a candidate or two and give them momentum," Strawn said.

Several caucus-goers inside a restaurant near Cain's headquarters paid tribute to Cain Saturday, but added that during the past several weeks they had settled on a candidate: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

"He has an intelligent grasp of all the issues, and I perceive he is the most competent to lead this nation back into its prosperity," said James Sandin, a Des Moines resident, of Gingrich.

But Sandin added that he is a strong admirer of Cain. "He portrayed himself as a man of the people. A common man, a business man, not a politician," he said.  "He will be missed in the campaign."