INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Republicans are scrambling to hold onto Rep. Mark Souder's seat following the evangelical Christian's decision to resign over an extramarital affair with a staffer with whom he made a video touting the benefits of abstinence education.
Gov. Mitch Daniels has said he will call a special election this summer to determine who will serve the remainder of Souder's eighth term — just two weeks after he won a bruising primary in the Republican-leaning district.
Souder's revelation Tuesday of the affair follows the resignation of Democratic Rep. Eric Massa of New York in March amid an investigation into whether he sexually harassed male staffers and admissions of extramarital affairs by South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and Nevada Sen. John Ensign — both Republicans who have held onto their offices.
The confession by Souder— an evangelical Christian who promoted abstinence education and was known for his outspoken views on religion — stunned some voters in his district.
"I just think it's a crying shame," said Jean Tarner, who owns the Huntington Street Bar in downtown Syracuse. "He's supposed to be setting the values for the youth. It's just too bad."
Souder, 59, stood alone during an emotional news conference at his Fort Wayne office during which he apologized for his actions but provided no details, including the name of the staffer.
Two senior congressional aides with firsthand knowledge of the decision identified the staffer as Tracy Jackson, who began working part-time in Souder's Indiana district office in 2004. Jackson resigned Tuesday, according to the aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
After a 2008 hearing on abstinence-only education, Jackson recorded a video interview with Souder in which the congressman said the only fully reliable way young people can protect themselves from pregnancy and STDs is by "abstaining from sex until in a committed, faithful relationship."
Jackson did not return phone calls and e-mails left by The Associated Press Tuesday and Wednesday. A man who answered the door at her home in Syracuse, Ind., on Tuesday declined to comment.
Souder said his wife and family were "more than willing" to stand with him at Tuesday's news conference. But "the error is mine and I should bear the responsibility," Souder said.
"I am so ashamed to have hurt the ones I love," he said as he battled tears. "I am sorry to have let so many friends down, people who have worked so hard for me."
Souder had been counted on by Republican leaders to win re-election, even though he was to face the Democratic candidate who four years ago gave him his toughest challenge since he was first elected in 1994.
Souder's staff contacted the staff of House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, on Sunday to alert them to the situation. Boehner spoke on the phone with Souder on Monday.
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said the minority leader "has been perfectly clear that he will hold our members to the highest ethical standards."
Rumors of Souder's infidelity had circulated in the northeastern Indiana district for months. Opponents reported receiving anonymous calls a few days before the May 4 primary with allegations of the affair.
Souder's fellow Republicans in northeastern Indiana wasted little time in jockeying to replace him. State Sen. Marlin Stutzman, a tea party favorite who finished second in the GOP primary for U.S. Senate two weeks ago, said he would announce within days whether he's running.
Allen County GOP Chairman Steve Shine had a list of potential candidates, including the two Republicans Souder defeated in the primary — Bob Thomas and Phil Troyer — as well as state Rep. Randy Borror of Fort Wayne and Fort Wayne City Councilwoman Liz Brown.
Shine said he hasn't talked to Stutzman about a possible run but received several calls from supporters saying he would make a good candidate.
"He did well in the Senate race and certainly had a following," said Bob Schmuhl, a political analyst and University of Notre Dame professor.