Published July 15, 2004
CHICAGO – Former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka (search) said Wednesday he would not run for the U.S. Senate, leaving Illinois Republicans still without a replacement candidate less than four months before the election.
Ditka, who first told Illinois Republican Party (search) leaders of his decision, made his announcement outside his Chicago restaurant.
"I don't know how I'd do on the Senate floor if I got in a confrontation with someone I didn't appreciate or maybe didn't appreciate me," he said.
Republicans had hoped Ditka would step in to replace Jack Ryan (search), who dropped out nearly three weeks ago over embarrassing allegations in his divorce papers that he took his wife, "Boston Public" actress Jeri Ryan (search), to sex clubs before they split up. The party's top choices have refused to run.
There had been a growing sentiment that Ditka was perhaps the best shot for the Illinois GOP to keep a seat that will be vacated in January when Sen. Peter Fitzgerald retires.
Fitzgerald said Tuesday that Ditka, a 64-year-old Hall of Famer, is "as close as you can get to a hero in Illinois."
A string of Republican leaders had lined up behind Ditka in recent days as a blunt-spoken every-man who could generate quick campaign cash and appeal to crossover votes from Reagan Democrats.