Ryan meets the press

In the spotlight
Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Jack Ryan meets with reporters outside the Thompson Center in Chicago on Tuesday, calling the uproar over allegations that he urged his then-wife to have sex in front of others "a new low for politics." (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh / June 22, 2004)

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jack Ryan said Tuesday he is staying in the race and expects to overcome tawdry allegations about his sex life, but some leading members of his own party questioned his honesty, and political analysts warned he can't recover.

Republican National Committee member Mary Jo Arndt said Ryan misled her about the contents of records related to his divorce, which include allegations that he encouraged his then-wife, actress Jeri Lynn Ryan, to go to sex clubs with him.

Details of the allegations were released Monday evening after a California judge ordered the documents unsealed. Ryan and his ex-wife fought the release, saying it would be harmful to their 9-year-old son.

"I feel he betrayed all of us by implying there was nothing detrimental in the sealed records,'' Arndt said. "I don't think he was protecting his son; I think he was protecting his political aspirations.''

Other Republicans who had been supportive of Ryan distanced themselves from the candidate, including former Gov. Jim Edgar, whose aide said Edgar wasn't given a full description of what was in the divorce files before they became public.

U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Peoria) called on Ryan to quit the campaign.

While many other Illinois politicians remained silent on the matter -- Ryan's opponent in the Senate race, Democrat Barack Obama, said he isn't interested in the allegations and wants to stick to issues -- Ryan publicly tried to salvage his candidacy, speaking on several radio stations and greeting supporters in Chicago.

He told a throng of reporters he "tried as hard as I could'' to tell party officials what was in the documents, and he said he hadn't heard any complaints from them.

"Everyone says, 'Yeah, here's what you told me was in there, and that we're excited about the campaign, ready to move forward,''' Ryan said. "I told everybody the exact same thing -- there was nothing in the file that would prevent me from running for the U.S. Senate.''

Ryan said he will overcome the allegations because he didn't break the law, his marriage vows or the Ten Commandments. Other people accused of worse have been elected, he said.

"I think if that's the worst people can say about me in the heat of a difficult dispute, I think it speaks very well about my character,'' he told WBEZ-FM.

But Mike Lawrence, interim director of the Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, said the allegations raise serious questions about the millionaire former investment banker-turned-teacher.

"I think it's going to be very difficult for him to run a credible race,'' Lawrence said. "This is not about some complex financial deal. ... These are allegations of a kind of behavior that people will react to.''

Ryan's status as a political newcomer won't help, Lawrence said.

"When you're a new face, the good news is you may not carry a lot of baggage into the race. The bad news is, if significant things emerge about you, you have no base to fall back on,'' he said.

Fred LeBed, political consultant and adviser to Democrat Blair Hull's failed Senate bid, noted Ryan was already behind in the polls. Hull was a front-runner before his own divorce papers were unsealed and allegations surfaced that he struck and threatened his ex-wife.

"Someone who was bleeding before would now be a political hemophiliac,'' LeBed said. "I don't know how he can stop the bleeding and salvage this candidacy, particularly when members of his own party are calling for him to get out of the race.''

Ryan's base is conservative, family-oriented voters, which could make the allegations all the more damaging, said Rep. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale).

But Dennis Culloton, public relations consultant and former spokesman for ex-Gov. George Ryan, said Americans "sometimes just love to hear an apology. If it's a sincere apology, then we're willing to forgive.''