Thursday, July 8, 2004

The Illinois Republican Party is under fire from grass-roots groups who say the party forced U.S. senatorial candidate Jack Ryan to withdraw from the race, and they want his name returned to the ballot.

Mr. Ryan, who won the March Republican primary, stepped aside June 25 after details of his sex life were revealed in previously sealed divorce records. He was to run against Democratic state Sen. Barack Obama.

“Jack Ryan was under pressure from the state party to resign. They pushed him out, and we want him back,” said Doug Ibendahl, who heads a 20,000-member group called the Republican Young Professionals.

The group has gathered thousands of signatures on a petition urging Mr. Ryan to reconsider and return to the race. The petition will be submitted Monday to party leaders.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Ryan yesterday said that the candidate is unlikely to return to the race, but agreed that party pressure was behind his stepping down.

“It became very apparent that we would have to fight a two-front war,” said Kelli Phiel, press secretary for the campaign. “One against Obama, who is formidable enough, and another against our own party.”

Mr. Ryan and Mr. Obama were vying for the seat of Republican Sen. Peter G. Fitzgerald, who is not seeking re-election. Democrats view the seat as one of the most vulnerable in their bid to wrestle the Senate back from a Republican majority.

Mr. Ryan bowed out when his divorce court documents revealed that he had taken his wife to sex clubs and asked her to perform sex acts on him in public.

Since he stepped down, Mr. Ibendahl said, “the state party has said it has at least a dozen people come forward who are interested in running in place of Jack. But the party refuses to say who those people are.

“This whole situation has become a train wreck, and the majority of the people in this state are not buying the idea that voters had lost confidence in Jack.”

The state Republican Party sunk Mr. Ryan without remorse, said Jack Roeser, president of the conservative Family Taxpayers Network, who also wants to see Mr. Ryan return.

“He has been treated terribly unfairly,” Mr. Roeser said. “Those people are rats for what they have done.”

The group accused party leaders of wrongly claiming the revelations eroded public confidence in Mr. Ryan.

Calls to the state party yesterday were unreturned.

Mr. Obama has the backing of the state’s Democratic machine and a lot of pull with black voters. He reported raising $4 million in the past three months.

Mr. Ryan, a wealthy investment banker, had served on a number of finance committees for Republican candidates in the state.

The state party is still trying to figure out who to run in Mr. Ryan’s place.

“They keep saying this is an open process, this selection of a successor to Jack Ryan,” said Cathy Santos, co-founder of Republican Young Professionals. “But not one seems to know what is going on. There is a lot of anger from the rank-and-file Republicans in this state.”

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