CHICAGO — Illinois Senate candidate Jack Ryan dropped out of the race Friday amid a furor over lurid sex club allegations that horrified fellow Republicans and caused his once-promising candidacy to implode in four short days.
"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, 44, said in a 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."
The campaign began to come apart Monday after the release of embarrassing records from Ryan's divorce. In those records, his ex-wife, "Boston Public" actress Jeri Ryan, said Ryan took her to kinky sex clubs in Paris, New York and New Orleans, and tried to get her to perform sex acts with him while others watched. Ryan disputed the allegations, saying he and his wife went to one "avant-garde" club in Paris and left because they felt uncomfortable.
Ryan said it was "truly outrageous" that the Chicago Tribune got a judge to unseal the records. "The media has gotten out of control," he said.
Top Illinois Republicans immediately began the work of selecting a new candidate. Their choice will be an instant underdog against Democratic state Sen. Barack Obama for the seat of retiring GOP Sen. Peter Fitzgerald. Obama held a wide lead even before the scandal broke.
"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."
Ryan had faced mounting pressure to quit from party leaders, who met several times the last few days to discuss whether the campaign could survive.
Ryan conducted an overnight poll to gauge his support. After reviewing the results, his advisors told him the only way to survive would be to wage a negative and expensive response.
"Jack Ryan made the right decision. I know it must have been a difficult one," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois, who made his feelings known by canceling a fundraiser with Ryan.
Ryan was a political neophyte, a millionaire investment banker who 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 primary.
With his good looks and Harvard background, Ryan was seen as the party's best hope for revitalizing the Illinois GOP, which lost control of the governor's office and nearly every statewide office two years ago in the wake of a corruption scandal involving then-Gov. George Ryan. The former governor, who has since been indicted, is not related to Jack Ryan.
During the primary, Ryan waved off rumors of damaging sex allegations in his divorce records, assuring officials there was nothing to worry about. But the Tribune and Chicago TV station WLS sued for the records' release, and a California judge unsealed them against the couple's wishes.