Rep. Edward L. Schrock (R-Va.) abruptly dropped out of his race for a third term yesterday, citing unspecified "allegations" that he said called into question his ability to represent his Virginia Beach district.
In a statement, Schrock, 63, did not address the nature of the allegations, but he said they "will not allow my campaign to focus on the real issues facing our nation and region." His chief of staff, Tom Gordy, refused any further comment last night.
Schrock's announcement came after a gay activist claimed on a Web site on Aug. 19 that Schrock is secretly gay.
Michael Rogers said his claims about Schrock were motivated by anger over what he said was the hypocrisy of the congressman's opposition to gay rights while leading a gay life. He said the purpose of his Web site is to make public the names of lawmakers and other politicians who engage in such hypocrisy.
"Why should my community protect him?" Rogers asked. "He's the enemy."
Rogers said on his Web site that Schrock had been recorded several years ago using a telephone service on which men place ads to arrange liaisons with other men. Rogers posted an audio link of an unidentified man placing an ad. Rogers said the man is Schrock, who is married and has a child.
The accusation by Rogers had circulated widely among Republicans in the state during the past 10 days and spurred rounds of talks among members of Congress, House leaders and local party leaders.
"We were unable to get any facts. It was all rumors and conjecture," said one Republican familiar with the talks who spoke on condition of anonymity. "No one wanted to believe the rumors. Everyone wanted to stand with Ed."
Last week, Gordy called Rogers's accusations "unsubstantiated rumors" and insisted that Schrock would stand for reelection as planned.
But party leaders in the district began planning a meeting in case they needed to review their nomination. The 2nd District Republican Party is scheduled to meet tonight to select a new nominee.
Mark L. McKinney, chairman of the Virginia Beach Republican Committee, said he had not talked directly to Schrock. "It's a shame that he had to resign because of a Web site that is trying to push a point of view . . . but . . . I have to believe that this was the reason why he stepped down."
Schrock's announcement came on the first night of the Republican National Convention in New York.
Virginia's top Republicans publicly ignored the sexual allegations and offered kind words about Schrock's service in Congress. Schrock, a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War, was elected in 2000 to represent Virginia's 2nd District, a conservative part of the state that includes Virginia Beach, parts of Norfolk and Hampton and Virginia's Eastern Shore.
The area is home to many military bases and a large number of active-duty service people and veterans.
Schrock retired from the Navy in 1988 and later became an investment broker, resigning in 1995 to run successfully for the Virginia Senate.
In Congress, Schrock has served on the House Armed Services Committee. In 2001, he was elected president of the Republican House freshman class.
In 2000, the Virginian-Pilot said of Schrock that he favored ending the Clinton administration's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military. He supported asking enlistees whether they have had homosexual experiences in an effort to try to keep gays from serving.
"You're in the showers with them, you're in the bunk room with them, you're in staterooms with them," Schrock told the Virginian-Pilot. "You just hope no harm would come by folks who are of that persuasion. It's a discipline thing."
Sen. George Allen (Va.), speaking from the Republican convention in New York, said through a spokesman: "I have enjoyed working with Ed Schrock for many years as governor and as senator. I respect his service to Virginia as well as the personal decision he made today."
Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, the Republican Party's presumptive nominee for governor next year, said in a statement, "I think we should all thank Rep. Schrock for his tireless and devoted efforts on behalf of the Commonwealth."
The congressman's decision has prompted what the state's top elections official called "a scramble" to nominate a new candidate. Democrats have nominated David B. Ashe, an Iraq war veteran, as their candidate.
Politicians considered the seat a safe one for the Republican incumbent.
Jean Jensen, secretary of the Virginia State Board of Elections, said Republicans have until 5 p.m. Friday to replace Schrock.
Several state Republican lawmakers said they are considering seeking Schrock's seat.
The leading candidates are state Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle (Virginia Beach) and Del. Thelma Drake (Norfolk), according to several Republican sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the events surrounding Schrock's sudden decision. Del. John J. Welch III (Virginia Beach) also said he is considering a bid.
A clash between Stolle and Drake could exacerbate a philosophical split that erupted earlier this year over taxes. Stolle supported higher taxes; Drake fervently opposed them.
Republican Party Chairman Kate Obenshain Griffin, who presides over a state organization that has been rocked by one scandal after another in the past several years, said she hoped that her party would come together quickly to move on.
"It is now important for Virginia Republicans to unite behind our nominee and work hard to ensure the 2nd District continues to be represented by a Republican," she said.
Staff writer Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.