Associated Press Writer CHICAGO - Republican Jack Ryan dropped out of the U.S. Senate race Friday, four days after embarrassing sex club allegations in his divorce records became public. "It's clear to me that a vigorous debate on the issues most likely could not take place if I remain in the race," Ryan said in the written statement. "What would take place, rather, is a brutal, scorched-earth campaign - the kind of campaign that has turned off so many voters, the kind of politics I refuse to play," he said. "Accordingly, I am today withdrawing from the race." Ryan's announcement came amid increasing pressure from party leaders, who had met several times in Washington and by teleconference since the records' release Monday to discuss the damage to the party and whether Ryan's campaign could survive. U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert said Friday there was "very little support" among the state's Republican House members for Ryan. Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., who had publicly called on Ryan to step down, went further, saying: "I don't think there's any support." At a news conference shortly after Ryan's an-nouncement Friday, state Republican leaders said Ryan wasn't forced out and national GOP officials still believe the seat is winnable. Illinois Republican Party chairwoman Judy Baar Topinka said the party hoped to have a new candidate within three weeks to replace Ryan in a run for the office of retiring Republican Sen. Peter Fitzgerald. "I respect the decision that Jack Ryan made today," Topinka said. "His decision was a personal one. Now I think it's time for our party to move forward." Ryan's campaign had 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. In a meeting Friday morning, Ryan's advisers told the candidate he could survive the scandal but only after an extremely negative and expensive response to the scandal. "I won't do that," Ryan replied, a participant in the meeting told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. "That's not me." The internal polling had Ryan trailing his Democratic opponent by 20 percent to 25 percent, the official said. That figure didn't worry aides as much as results showing that conservatives were peeling away from Ryan. They concluded that the only way to get Ryan's base back would be to immediately go negative on his opponent and not let up. "Jack Ryan made the right decision," Hastert said after Ryan announced his plans. Ryan, 44, was a political neophyte when he got into the race, a millionaire investment banker who had left business in 2000 to teach at an all-boys parochial school in Chicago. He spent $3 million of his own money to win the Republican primary. With his photogenic looks and Harvard background, Ryan was seen by many as the party's best hope for revitalization in Illinois. During the primary, he waved off rumors of lurid sex allegations in his sealed divorce records, telling party officials there was nothing in the records that would prevent him from serving in the U.S. Senate. But the Chicago Tribune and Chicago TV station WLS sued for the records' release, and a California judge recently ordered them unsealed. In them, Ryan's ex-wife, actress Jeri Ryan, said Ryan took her to sex clubs and tried to pressure her to perform sex acts while others watched. Ryan, in the records, denied the allegations. Both fought to keep the records sealed, saying the release could harm their 9-year-old son. Jeri Ryan said Friday that the impact the publicizing of a "personal matter" had had on her ex-husband's campaign was "discouraging and disappointing." Several state GOP leaders had been outraged at the details and accused Ryan of misleading them. Fitzgerald, however, en-couraged Ryan to stay in the race. "I think the public stoning of Jack Ryan is one of the most grotesque things I've seen in politics," the senator said Friday. He said the party's bigwigs pushed Ryan out: "It was like piranhas. They smelled blood in the water and they just devoured him." Ryan's Democratic opponent in the Senate race, state Sen. Barack Obama, leading in the polls since the March primary, had steered clear of the allegations, saying he wanted to stick to the issues. "What he's gone through over the last three days I think is something you wouldn't wish on anybody," Obama said Friday. "Unfortunately, I think our politics has gotten so personalized and cutthroat that it's very difficult for people to want to get in the business." Ryan won the Republican primary by more than 10 percentage points over his two closest rivals, dairy owner James Oberweis and state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger. Both Oberweis and Rauschenberger said they would step in as Ryan's replacement if party leaders asked. Other possible candidates mentioned include U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, former Gov. Jim Edgar and Sen. Fitzgerald, though all three say they weren't interested. Gary MacDougal, former Illinois Republican Party chairman, said that once the records were released, Ryan "really was a dead man walking." "I think he's a very intelligent fellow and even though he might regard it as unfair that old divorce allegations became the issue rather than who believed what on the various important issues such as school choice and Iraq and so forth, that's politics," MacDougal said. "He got a very expensive lesson." Associated Press Special Correspondent David Espo and reporter Dennis Conrad contributed to this report from Washington.
Ryan quits Senate race
Get breaking and town-specific news sent to your phone. Sign up for text alerts from the Daily Chronicle.