Springfield State Journal Register

June 25, 2004

Republicans question Ryan's future
Candidate cancels trip to Washington


WASHINGTON - Still reeling from controversy over the release of embarrassing divorce records earlier this week, Illinois Republican Senate candidate Jack Ryan canceled a planned trip to Washington for a fund-raiser Thursday, Ryan campaign officials said.

"We decided we needed to spend our time in Chicago - in Illinois - right now," Ryan spokeswoman Kelli Phiel said.

She denied speculation that Ryan is considering quitting his campaign.

But one GOP source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that the campaign intended to conduct an overnight poll to gauge Ryan's political strength and to determine whether a massive infusion of personal funds could revive his candidacy.

The full Illinois congressional delegation discussed Ryan at a luncheon Thursday, and the Republican members later met privately in the office of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Yorkville, to talk about the growing controversy.

Ryan had been scheduled to appear at a fund-raising lunch hosted by the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Another fund-raiser was canceled because Hastert had to attend a meeting at the White House.

A decision to cancel the Washington trip altogether was made late Wednesday, Phiel said.

NRSC spokesman Dan Allen said he left his office at 10 p.m. believing Ryan was still coming. But he got word by e-mail early Thursday that Ryan had canceled.

Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., said he urged Ryan to stay in the race during a telephone conversation Thursday morning.

"I gathered he's assessing the situation," said Fitzgerald, adding that he would be disappointed if Ryan quits.

"I think that would be sad, and I think he should stay on because I don't think a lifetime of good works and accomplishment should be destroyed by a few moments of misjudgment. ... If it is, then all of us are laboring in vain."

Fitzgerald said Ryan's campaign is being harmed more by the criticism from those within his own party than the allegations by his then-wife, actress Jeri Lynn Ryan, in divorce records that he insisted she go with him to sex clubs in three cities.

In the court documents, Jack Ryan has said his ex-wife mischaracterized the situation to libel him. He said he arranged "romantic getaways," but not including "the type of activities she describes." He said they did go to an "avant-garde club in Paris, but they both felt uncomfortable and quickly left."

The Ryans unsuccessfully fought to keep the divorce records sealed on the grounds they could be harmful to their 9-year-old son.

Fitzgerald Thursday blamed state Republican Party Chairwoman Judy Baar Topinka for being too concerned with her own future political aspirations to firmly stand behind Ryan. He said he finds it ironic that the same people who are critical of Ryan "didn't bat an eyelash" when former Gov. George Ryan was indicted on still-pending corruption charges.

Any replacement candidate for Ryan would enter the race at a severe disadvantage, Fitzgerald said.

"It takes three or four months to set up a fund-raising operation in a campaign, and they'll be so far behind in a state that favors Democrats, that I pity that person," said Fitzgerald, adding that he wouldn't consider running again.

Meanwhile, Ryan's Democratic opponent, state Sen. Barack Obama, who has avoided the Ryan controversy, has been asked to give the weekly Democratic radio address Saturday. The speech will be broadcast at 10 a.m.

At the Statehouse for a special legislative session, Obama said his message will stay the same no matter who the Republican candidate is.

"I know this is going to consume all the oxygen in terms of media coverage for the next week or two, but hopefully, sometime soon, we'll get back to the issues," Obama said.

He said it is "probably not surprising" that so much attention is being paid to Ryan and his ex-wife.

"So much of our culture is caught up in celebrity and sensationalism," Obama said. "It's an unfortunate aspect of our culture generally, and our politics ends up taking on that same flavor. ... I do regret the personalization of politics of this kind. It's not something I wish on anybody, and I think it's not particularly helpful to ordinary citizens who are trying to figure out how do I pay my bills and send my kids to college and save for retirement."

One possible replacement being discussed for Ryan is state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger, R-Elgin, who was one of several primary opponents to Ryan in the spring.

"Jack Ryan's the candidate as far as I know," Rauschenberger said. "There can't be a draft until Jack Ryan makes a decision. If in the future the party were to come to me with a request that I consider a statewide run, I'd be very interested."

Political writer Bernard Schoenburg contributed to this report. He can be reached at 788-1540 or bernard.schoenburg@sj-r.com.