INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Rep. Mark Souder, an eight-term Republican who promoted abstinence education, said Tuesday he'll resign from Congress after admitting an extramarital affair with a part-time staff member.
Souder won a bruising primary just two weeks ago, and the resignation effective Friday could hurt the GOP's chances of holding onto the Republican-leaning district in November in a year that many expect will favor the party.
Souder, an evangelical Christian who has championed family values and traditional marriage, apologized for his actions but provided no details during an emotional news conference at his Fort Wayne office.
"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 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"
The announcement stunned many in political circles.
"Most people in this part of the state are as dumbfounded as they could be," said Bob Schmuhl, a political analyst and University of Notre Dame professor.
Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels said he was surprised and disappointed by Souder's announcement.
"He did a wrong thing but now he's done the right thing," Daniels said.
A spokeswoman from Daniels' office said a special election will be held to fill the vacancy. The winner would complete the remainder of Souder's term that ends in January.
Republican and Democratic precinct committeemen in the district will choose nominees for the special election, and GOP precinct officials would choose a candidate for the November ballot. The special election cannot be held until at least 60 days after the vacancy occurs.
Throughout his time in Congress, Souder made his evangelical Christianity a centerpiece of his public persona. He was known for his outspoken views on religion and his uncompromising conservative positions on social issues such as abortion.
He said after a 2008 hearing on abstinence-only education that 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."
Around the same time, he also recorded a video interview with a staff member in which he stressed the importance of abstinence education.
As a lawmaker, Souder was best known for his work on drug enforcement issues and his opposition to online gambling. Souder played an important role in 2006 legislation signed by President George W. Bush that targeted methamphetamine dealers.
"To serve has been a blessing and a responsibility given from God. I wish I could have been a better example," Souder said, his voice breaking. "I sinned against God, my wife and my family by having a mutual relationship with a part-time member of my staff."
He said he chose to resign rather than subject his family to a "painful, drawn-out process" in what he called "the poisonous environment of Washington, D.C."
"I'm sick of politicians who drag their spouses in front of the cameras rather than confronting the problems that they've caused," he said.
Souder, 59, has been married to Diane since 1974, according to the biography on his office website. They have three adult children and two grandchildren.
Souder was seeking a ninth term after winning the May 4 Republican primary with 48 percent of the vote. His GOP opponent, car dealer Bob Thomas, 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.
In November, Souder was to face Democrat Tom Hayhurst, a former Fort Wayne city councilman who got 46 percent of the vote against Souder in 2006 – the toughest challenge since Souder was first elected in 1994.
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.
Republicans hope the GOP tendencies will prevail in November in the district that John McCain carried 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.
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, who had been under fire over a foundation he'd set up to award college scholarships, said he January he wouldn't seek a 10th term in the House after his wife was diagnosed with an incurable autoimmune disease.
Associated Press writers Henry C. Jackson in Washington and Rick Callahan in Indianapolis contributed to this report.