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Ryan drops out of Senate race in Illinois

Campaign hurt by sex club allegations

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Senate candidate accused of sex club forays by ex-wife
Jack Ryan
Jeri Ryan
Bill Frist
Barack Obama

(CNN) -- Buffeted by allegations of sex club forays, Republican candidate Jack Ryan on Friday dropped out of the U.S. Senate race in Illinois.

In a written statement, Ryan blamed the news media for the controversy, saying its interest in his personal life had gotten "out of control."

"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. "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, 44, a wealthy former investment banker, had been running against Democrat Barack Obama for the seat being vacated by retiring GOP Sen. Peter Fitzgerald -- a potentially key contest in the battle for control of the evenly divided Senate.

Even before the lurid allegations, Obama held a lead over Ryan in various polls.

Republican officials acknowledged Friday that any Republican who jumps into the race now would face an uphill battle.

Names being floated include State Senate Chairwoman Judy Baar Topinka and State Sen. Steve Rauschenberger.

In Washington, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, released a statement, saying the state GOP party would find a replacement for Ryan.

"Jack Ryan made the right decision," Hastert said. "I know it must have been a difficult one."

Ryan's fall came fast. On Thursday, an aide said Ryan was "assessing his options" about whether to continue his election bid amid allegations that he visited sex clubs with his then-wife, actress Jeri Ryan.

Ryan abruptly canceled a planned Thursday trip to Capitol Hill, where Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, expressed his disappointment in the allegations and pointedly declined to offer words of support for Ryan.

And the Illinois congressional delegation had been largely silent about Ryan, leaving him to fend for himself. One Republican, Rep. Ray LaHood, had even called for Ryan to withdraw from the race.

The four-year-old allegations about Ryan were contained in court papers unsealed this week. In them, Jeri Ryan states her ex-husband took her to sex clubs and asked her to engage in sexual activity in front of other patrons. Chicago media outlets had sued for the release of the court documents.

Ryan denied the allegations, which were contained in court papers filed in a visitation dispute over the couple's son. Monday, he called the account "ridiculous" and insisted then that he had no plans to drop out.

Rumors about allegations in the divorce documents swirled during the state's Republican primary, but Ryan steadfastly refused to release the records.

Jeri Ryan, who starred in the TV shows "Boston Public" and "Star Trek: Voyager," said in a written statement that she now considers her ex-husband "a friend" and has "no doubt that he will make an excellent senator." But she has not disavowed the account she gave in court papers.

Jeri Ryan said her then-husband took her on three "surprise trips" in the spring of 1998 to New Orleans, New York and Paris, during which he took her to sex clubs. She said she refused to go in the first and went into the second at his insistence.

In his legal response to her allegations, Jack Ryan said while he did arrange "romantic getaways" for the couple, they "did not include the type of activities she describes."

"We did go to one avant-garde nightclub in Paris, which was more than either one of us felt comfortable with. We left and vowed never to return," he said.

Both Ryans had objected to the release of details in the documents, but they opted not to appeal Monday's ruling from a judge in Los Angeles, where their divorce was filed.

CNN's Ted Barrett, John Mercurio and John Bisney contributed to this report.

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