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) 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."

Mark Shurtleff talks about why he dropped out of the U.S. Senate race Wednesday in Salt Lake City. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Mark Shurtleff talks about why he dropped out of the U.S. Senate race Wednesday in Salt Lake City. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

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.

Shurtleff said Wednesday he does not believe any of the other current Republican candidates can beat Bennett, and says other conservatives may reach the same conclusion and enter the race. He explained why he feels others now in the race cannot beat Bennett.

"I have almost 100 percent name recognition and I have very high performance ratings. I've had (state) delegates for 10 years. And I knew if I beat him, it's by the skin of my teeth. It's tough taking on a sitting senator," he said. He added he will consider endorsing a candidate in the race in the future.

The campaign between Shurtleff and Bennett was bitter, with Bennett's campaign questioning whether Shurtleff was improperly — and perhaps illegally — using funds from his state campaign toward his Senate run. And Shurtleff complained Bennett was swamping his office with public records requests seeking dirt on him.

But Bennett on Wednesday wished Shurtleff well, saying, "Mark Shurtleff clearly has his priorities straight putting his family first. I am distressed to hear this new information about Mark's daughter and wish him and his family the very best as they work through this challenge."

Bridgewater said, "Nothing is more important than the health and safety of your family. Mark has always put his family first and he has proven that again today. Laura and I wish the Shurtleff family all the best in this difficult time, and we hope for a speedy recovery for Danielle."

Eagar also wished Shurtleff well. She said, "I have complete respect for Mr. Shurtleff's decision and for the fact that he got in early, so that the voters could get to know him."

GOP Gov. Gary Herbert also praised Shurtleff's decision, saying, "It shows Mark has his priorities straight, because it ought to be family first." He added, "The good news for Utah is we have we have a lot of good, capable qualified candidates. We lost one today but we still have a number of others out there."

Utah Democratic Party executive director Todd Taylor said Shurtleff found that his support among conservatives and Utahns in general was lacking for a number of reasons, but most certainly by his "questionable" fundraising.

"His campaign became something of a mess, that's for sure," Taylor said. "People were focusing on his campaign funders."

For example, the Deseret News wrote a story in September about how Shurtleff and his state political action committee had accepted $227,000 over the past two years from companies that have faced state investigations for Internet fraud or deceptive business practices. He was also criticized for meeting with some people facing state scrutiny.

Taylor said candidates in Utah do need to take care of how they handle money. "And this certainly shows that you have to be more careful in who you take money from than Mark Shurtleff was in his campaign funding."

Taylor said Democrats were helped over the summer in the "tit-for-tat" fights between Shurtleff and Bennett. "But in the long run I don't know if that helps, makes much difference," when the final election comes in a year.

State GOP chairman Dave Hansen said he was told several days ago that Shurtleff could be dropping out of the race. "I respect the campaign that Mark has run, and I respect that he is doing what is best for him and his family," he said.

Hansen said that the recent official entry of Bridgewater into the race likely didn't change it too much, and Shurtleff getting out probably doesn't change the anti-Bennett camp too much, either.

"Whatever opposition (to Bennett) is still out there, and Mark's leaving likely doesn't change that," Hansen said. "However, Sen. Bennett has been working hard, getting out" throughout Utah trying to fight back that opposition, he added.

Bennett's worries may be lessened with Shurtleff's withdrawal, but they don't go away.

"There could still be others who decide to get in the race," Hansen, said although he added he knows of no impending announcements.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, had made early comments that he might consider the race, but later said he is focusing instead on running for re-election to his House seat.

Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche

e-mail: lee@desnews; bbjr@desnews.com

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