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Illinois Senate candidate under pressure to drop out over sex-club allegations

CHICAGO (AP) _ His campaign in turmoil over embarrassing sex allegations, Illinois Senate candidate Jack Ryan abruptly canceled a fund-raising trip to Washington while Republican House members met privately to discuss the scandal.

Although campaign spokesman Kelli Phiel declared that ``Jack Ryan is in the race to stay,'' Ryan saw GOP support dwindle even further on Thursday.

All Republican House members from the state met privately in the office of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.

A Republican official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Hastert agreed with fellow Illinois Republicans that Ryan should step down. Hastert is said to hold the greatest sway over Ryan's candidacy, having the power to cut off funding and pressure him to quit.

Another source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the campaign intended to conduct an overnight poll to gauge whether the campaign is salvageable.

Well-educated, articulate and glamorous-looking, Ryan was considered the GOP's best hope for reinvigorating an Illinois Republican Party demoralized by a corruption scandal and devastating 2002 election losses.

But those hopes were dashed in lurid fashion this week with the unsealing of divorce papers in which Ryan's ex-wife, ``Boston Public'' actress Jeri Ryan, alleged that Ryan took her to swingers clubs and tried to get her to have sex with him while others watched.

At least one Republican congressman has asked him to withdraw, several major newspapers have called on him to step aside or questioned his honesty, and the late-night comics are snickering. (Jay Leno: ``Jack Ryan, I've heard of going after the `swing vote,' but this is ridiculous!'')

In the court documents, Jeri Ryan, the blond actress who played a cyborg in a skintight outfit in ``Star Trek: Voyager,'' said her husband took her on surprise trips to New Orleans, New York and Paris and insisted she go to sex clubs with him on each trip.

The 44-year-old Harvard-educated Jack Ryan disputed the allegations, saying in court papers: ``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.''

For his part, Ryan's Democratic opponent in November, state Sen. Barack Obama, has avoided talking about the allegations, saying he wants to stick to the issues. Even before the GOP campaign took its embarrassing turn, Obama held a wide lead over Ryan for the Senate seat held by retiring Republican Peter Fitzgerald.

Hastert spokesman John Feehery said the speaker would not comment until he talked to the candidate.

The GOP cannot force Ryan off the ballot. But if he drops out before Aug. 27, the party can put up a new candidate. Among those mentioned: state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger and dairy owner Jim Oberweis, both of whom lost to Ryan in the primary, and former state Board of Education chairman Ron Gidwitz.
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