Friday, June 25, 2004
Jack Ryan will Bow Out of Illinois Senate Race
WASHINGTON - Illinois Republican candidate Jack Ryan intends to abandon his Senate bid after four days spent trying to weather a political storm stirred by sex club allegations, GOP officials said Friday.
A formal announcement was expected within hours, said these officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Ryan conducted an overnight poll to gauge his support in the wake of the allegations made by his ex-wife in divorce records unsealed earlier this week. Aides said in advance his only options were to withdraw or to redouble his campaign efforts with a massive infusion of money from his personal wealth.
Illinois GOP leaders would select another candidate in the event of a withdrawal. Ryan's replacement would become an instant underdog in a campaign against Democratic State Sen. Barack Obama.
One official said a withdrawal statement was in the drafting stages. Two officials said Ryan's staff was spreading the word of his intentions. "He knows he can't go on," said one official, who spoke with the campaign.
Illinois Republican Party leaders convened a teleconference, although it wasn't clear whether they had yet turned to discussion of who might replace Ryan some four months before the November election.
While polls have shown Ryan trailing Obama from the start, several party strategists said they were concerned about the impact on Republicans running for the state legislature and other offices if he stayed on the ballot.
The Senate election is to replace Republican Peter Fitzgerald, who decided not to seek a second term.
Ryan has been struggling for political survival since Monday, when divorce records were released showing that his ex-wife, actress Jeri Ryan, said he took her to sex clubs and tried to pressure her to perform sex acts while others watched. Ryan has denied the allegations.
Although Fitzgerald and the National Republican Senatorial Committee stood by Ryan, he came under immediate pressure from many GOP officials in his home state to relinquish his nomination.
Members of the state's GOP congressional delegation met with House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., on Thursday to discuss the issue, and one official said afterward that the speaker concurred that Ryan needed to step aside.
Hastert declined to elaborate Friday, simply saying, "That's up to him. It's his choice. It's not whether I want to or not."
Fitzgerald said Friday that he had encouraged Ryan to stay in the race, calling the response to the scandal "grotesque."
"I told him that it troubled me greatly that so many party leaders who had no trouble stomaching years and years of corruption and insider deals and scandals under George Ryan were now lining up to throw stones at Jack (no relation to George Ryan)," Fitzgerald said.
"I think the public stoning of Jack Ryan is one of the most grotesque things I've seen in politics," he said. He said he talked to Ryan on Thursday but hadn't spoken with him since then.
Ryan, 44, was seen by many as the party's best hope of revitalization after a devastating 2002 election, in which Illinois Republicans lost control of the governor's office and nearly every statewide office, and an ongoing corruption scandal involving former Gov. George Ryan, who has since been indicted.
But those hopes were dashed by the unsealing of his divorce records. Ryan had fought the unsealing, saying it would harm his 9-year-old son. The Chicago Tribune and Chicago TV station WLS sued to have the records released.
Ryan had no public appearances planned Friday and his campaign staff did not return calls. Campaign spokesman Kelli Phiel declared repeatedly Thursday that "Jack Ryan is in the race to stay," even as Ryan saw GOP support dwindle even further during the day.
Meanwhile, the Illinois Republican Party prepared for a previously scheduled evening leadership retreat designed to advise GOP candidates on winning in November.
The GOP cannot force Ryan off the ballot, but if he drops out before Aug. 27, the party can put up a new candidate. Among those mentioned: state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger and dairy owner Jim Oberweis, both of whom lost to Ryan in the primary, and former state Board of Education (news - web sites) chairman Ron Gidwitz.