Larry Craig will resign from Senate seat

Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig’s decision to quit spares his party the embarrassment of an indefinitely prolonged scandal following his arrest during a sex sting in a Minneapolis airport bathroom.

Craig will announce his resignation, effective Sept. 30, at a news conference in Boise Saturday morning, GOP officials in Idaho and Washington told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Still, opting to wait a month before officially bowing out raises questions of what Craig hopes to accomplish in Washington once the post-Labor Day session begins.

Word of the resignation came four days after disclosure that Craig had pleaded guilty to a reduced misdemeanor charge arising out of his June 11 arrest during a lewd-conduct investigation at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Craig’s regional director in Boise, Will Hart, declined to say if the senator will appear in Senate chambers Tuesday. Craig, should he show up, could continue to be a liability for his party as it tries to shed negative publicity, said Jasper LiCalzi, a professor of political economy at Albertson College of Idaho in Caldwell.

“If he’s trying to walk into the Senate chamber, everybody is going to be following him,” LiCalzi said. “I’ve been surprised by everything — this is one more.”

The three-term Republican senator had maintained he did nothing wrong — except for making the guilty plea without consulting a lawyer. But he found almost no support among Republicans in his home state or Washington.

Although several Republicans familiar with internal deliberations said Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter favored Lt. Gov. Jim Risch as a replacement, both Otter aides and Risch said no decision had been made.

“I have not been promised the job of U.S. senator, nor has there even been a hint that the governor would appoint me to that position,” Risch told the AP. “At this point in time, that discussion is very premature.”

Mark Warbis, a spokesman for Otter, said the governor would not comment until he hears from Craig.

Craig has been out of public view since Tuesday, when he declared defiantly at a Boise news conference: “I am not gay. I never have been gay.” But Republican sources in Idaho said he spent Friday making calls to top party officials, including the governor, gauging their support.

There has been virtually none publicly.

GOP lawmakers stripped Craig of leadership posts Wednesday, a day after calling for an investigation of Craig’s actions by the Senate Ethics Committee. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called Craig’s conduct “unforgivable” and acknowledged many in the rank and file thought Craig should resign.

Craig, 62, has represented Idaho in Congress for more than a quarter-century and was up for re-election next year.

Larry LaRocco, a former Democratic House member who is campaigning for Craig’s seat in 2008, said, “Obviously, change is in the air. I represent that change, and based on the last few days, people are really looking for that change.”

Still, Idaho remains one of the nation’s most reliably Republican states. The GOP controls the statehouse and all four seats in Congress, and Bush carried the state in 2004 with 68 percent of the vote.

Risch, the lieutenant governor, served for seven months as governor last year after former Gov. Dirk Kempthorne was named interior secretary. Risch had said earlier he was interested in Craig’s Senate seat if Craig did not seek re-election in 2008.

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, also had been mentioned as a possible replacement for Craig, but the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because Craig has not resigned, said Otter would probably choose Risch.

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Daly reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Todd Dvorak in Boise and David Espo and Liz Sidoti in Washington contributed to this report.