INDIANAPOLIS - Indiana Republican Rep. Mark Souder acknowledged an affair with a staffer Tuesday and unexpectedly announced his resignation, giving Democrats a chance at capturing what many had thought was a safe Republican seat.
The eight-term congressman apologized for his actions but provided no details.
"I am so ashamed to have hurt the ones I love," he said at a news conference in Fort Wayne. "I am sorry to have let so many friends down, people who have worked so hard for me." His resignation is effective Friday.
UPDATE: Fox News has identified Souder's mistress as Tracy Jackson, an aide in his Indiana district office. Video has surfaced of Jackson conducting an "interview" with Souder about a hearing on abstinence education.
Souder's decision could damage the Republicans' chances of holding onto the GOP-leaning district in northeastern Indiana. Souder won a bruising Republican primary on May 4 with 48 percent of the vote and was to face the Democratic candidate who four years ago gave him the toughest challenge since he was first elected in 1994 on a "family values" platform.
Souder, 59, said he would not be a candidate in the fall election. It will be up to Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels to decide whether to call a special election to fill the vacancy or wait until the November ballot.
"I sinned against God, my wife and my family by having a mutual relationship with a part-time member of my staff," Souder said. "In the poisonous environment of Washington, D.C., any personal failing is seized upon and twisted for political gain. I am resigning rather than put my family through a painful drawn out process."
At a press conference on Tuesday, Souder said he doesn't want his "mistake" to be used "as a political football in a partisan attempt to undermine the cause for which I have labored all my adult life."
"The ideas we advocate are still just and right," Souder said according to the Wall Street Journal, adding that he is "most defined by the fact that I'm an evangelical Christian"
Souder has been married to his wife, Diane, since 1974, according to the biography on his office website. They have three adult children and two grandchildren.
Fox News noted:
Souder was absent from Washington most of last week, missing multiple votes and only voting on Thursday. While the rumors had been flying, Souder claimed that he was at home tending to his ill wife.
All the way through his election, Souder tried to knock down the affair story, calling it revenge politics at play. But the backroom chatter in Indiana and among the GOP on Capitol Hill became too much to survive. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels was informed as late as Monday night that Souder would give up his post.
Souder won the Republican primary over car dealer Bob Thomas, who spent much of his own money on television commercials portraying Souder as a career politician who wasn't a true fiscal conservative. Souder countered by emphasizing his A-plus marks from the National Rifle Association and 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee.
Souder had been expected to face a stiff contest against Democrat Tom Hayhurst, a former Fort Wayne city councilman who got 46 percent of the vote against Souder in 2006. Nevertheless, the 3rd Congressional District has a strong Republican tilt; John McCain carried the district by more than 10 points in the 2008 presidential election.
One possible Republican replacement for Souder is state Sen. Marlin Stutzman of Howe, who finished second to former Sen. Dan Coats in this month's GOP primary for the U.S. Senate. Hayhurst said in statement that his thoughts and prayers were with Souder and his family.
"I'm not running for Congress to run against anyone, but I'm running because I think I can help change Washington and that will not change not matter who is in the race," Hayhurst said.
Souder's resignation continues a significant turnover among Indiana's congressional delegation this year.
Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh announced in February he wouldn't seek re-election, saying he had tired of Congress. Democratic Rep. Brad Ellsworth is leaving his southern Indiana seat to run for Bayh's position.
Republican Rep. Steve Buyer said he January he wouldn't seek a 10th term in the House after his wife was diagnosed with an incurable autoimmune disease.