Shurtleff drops out of U.S. Senate race

Published: Thursday, Nov. 5 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

Mark Shurtleff talks about why he dropped out of the U.S. Senate race Wednesday in Salt Lake City.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff stunned Utah politicians Wednesday by abruptly dropping out of the U.S. Senate race, saying he needs time to work with his daughter who is struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts.

"I have a daughter (17-year-old Danielle) who has been struggling with depression and other problems for years" and has made suicide attempts, he tearfully said as he made the announcement on KSL Radio's "Doug Wright Show." He and his daughter previously talked publicly about her struggles, including in a 2006 Deseret News series on suicide.

"After I announced for the Senate and thought things were squared away with the family, things began to spiral to very self-destructive behavior. Ultimately, just a short time ago, we had to put her into a treatment facility."

Shurtleff added, "The great professionals who are working with us say whether she survives" depends on involvement by him, his wife and their family "even though she is in a facility." The daughter, who is adopted, has problems in part because of fetal alcohol spectrum syndrome resulting from drinking by her birth mother, Shurtleff said.

"The things we have to do so that she can progress and get well necessitates a substantial amount of time," he said. "So I am suspending my Senate campaign." He later made clear the campaign is ended, although he may consider a future run for federal office.

As an example of the time he needs to take for his daughter, he told the Deseret News that he and his wife must travel out-of-state next week for four days of intensive training. He said he they also must travel for days at a time beginning in December to the distant facility treating his daughter for work with her.

Shurtleff said he feels an urgency to do as much as possible to help his daughter now, while she is 17, because "at 18 she can say, I'm done, I'm out of here."

A tearful Shurtleff also said in an interview, "I worry that my life as an elected official has been part of this." He said other parents of suicidal children have warned him that such thoughts, and even blame from children, are common for parents of people struggling with suicide no matter their profession.

But, Shurtleff said, "I know how much I've put into my public service, so I start thinking, yes, maybe I am part of that."

Shurtleff said he was touched by his daughter's response when he wrote to her at the treatment facility.

"I wrote her a couple of weeks ago saying that I am seriously considering (dropping out of the race) given what we have to do. And she was so sweet, she wrote, 'I know you love to serve. Thanks for thinking about me,' " he said sobbing.

Shurtleff said he has sufficient time to continue serving as attorney general, a full-time job, but not to also run for Senate, essentially another full-time job. "I have to do what's right for my daughter," he said.

He added, "Maybe in the future there will be an opportunity to do things nationally, but I am also attorney general and will continue to serve in that role, and I can do that and provide the treatment and help my family needs. I just couldn't do three or four things at once."

Shurtleff still has three years left in his third term as attorney general.

Shurtleff had been seen as the most powerful of several conservatives seeking to unseat Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah.

Remaining GOP candidates in the race include former congressional hopeful Tim Bridgewater, businesswoman Cherilyn Eagar and small businessman James Russell Williams III. Democrat Sam Granato is also running.

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