CHICAGO – Republican Jack Ryan (search) dropped out of the Illinois Senate race Friday, saying he wanted to avoid a "brutal, scorched-earth campaign" that was likely to follow the recently-revealed disclosure of sex club allegations made in his divorce records.
Ryan's 1999 divorce from "Boston Public" actress Jeri Ryan (search) made news four days ago when unsealed court papers showed she alleged that he asked her to have sex with him in nightclubs while others watched.
Ryan denied the allegations, and his ex-wife issued a statement of support for her former spouse.
Click here to view Ryan's divorce records.
"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 a statement on Friday.
"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. Accordingly, I am today withdrawing from the race."
Ryan decided to bow out of the race to replace Republican Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (search) after Illinois GOP leaders urged him to quit.
Before Ryan's departure from the race, U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (search) said the candidate had "very little support" in the Illinois congressional delegation. Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., who had publicly called on Ryan to step down, went farther, saying: "I don't think there's any support."
At a news conference shortly after Ryan's announcement Friday, state Republican leaders said that Ryan was not forced out of the race and that national GOP officials still believe the state is winnable.
Illinois Republican Party chairwoman Judy Baar Topinka said the party hoped to have a new candidate with in three weeks to replace Ryan.
After Ryan's announcement, Hastert said Ryan "made the right decision" and added that he is confident the Illinois Republican Party "will select a candidate who will unite Republicans throughout this state and quickly launch a winning campaign."
Among the candidates who could replace Ryan are dairy owner James Oberweis and state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger, both of whom lost to Ryan in the primary. Also mentioned as possible replacements have been former state Board of Education Chairman Ron Gidwitz, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and former Gov. Jim Edgar, who said he wasn't interested. Rauschenberger suggested the party might also ask Sen. Fitzgerald to reconsider his decision to resign.
Aides to the candidate had concluded that he could not have succeeded in his contest against Democratic state Sen. Barack Obama (search) unless he redoubled his campaign efforts with a massive infusion of cash from his personal fortune and a negative turn. That decision followed overnight polling to gauge his support in the wake of the allegations.
Ryan was said to have refused to take that route.
Republicans are now at a definite disadvantage as they try to come up with an alternative to take on Obama. Illinois Republican Party leaders were planning to meet Friday afternoon to discuss the next step.
Obama, who had been leading polls since the March primary, avoided getting in the way of Ryan's fall, and said Friday he didn't care to talk about the allegations.
"I feel for him actually," Obama said on WLS-AM. "What he's gone through over the last three days I think is something you wouldn't wish on anybody. Unfortunately, I think our politics has gotten so personalized and cut-throat that it's very difficult for people to want to get in the business."
Ryan's dropping out had little to do with winning the seat, but rather was motivated more about concern that he would pull down Republican candidates for other seats, said several party strategists.
But not everyone had wanted to see Ryan drop out. Fitzgerald — who is resigning after one term in the Senate — and the National Republican Senatorial Committee stood by him.
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 [no relation to Jack Ryan] were now lining up to throw stones at Jack," 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.
After the records were disclosed on Monday, Jeri Ryan did not comment on the allegations, but said her ex-husband would make a good senator. The two fought the unsealing, saying it would harm their 9-year-old son. The Chicago Tribune and Chicago TV station WLS sued to have the records released.
Ryan, 44, was a political neophyte when he got into the race, a millionaire investment banker who had left business four years ago 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 telegenic looks and Harvard background, Ryan was seen by many as the party's best hope of revitalization in Illinois after a devastating 2002 election, in which state Republicans lost control of the governor's office and nearly every statewide office, and an ongoing corruption scandal involving former Gov. Ryan, who has since been indicted.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.