Embattled Democratic Illinois Lt. Gov. Candidate Bows to Pressure, Drops Out of Race

Scott Lee Cohen was charged with assaulting his girlfriend in 2005.

Feb. 8, 2010— -- The embattled Democratic candidate for Illinois lieutenant governor dropped out of the race Sunday because of pressure from party members worried about his 2005 arrest for domestic violence.

Scott Lee Cohen, who won the Democratic primary by 26 percentage points Tuesday, said in an emotional speech Sunday that he did not want to jeopardize the Democratic Party's chances in the election.

"This is the hardest thing that I ever had to do in my life," a teary-eyed Cohen said. "For the good of the people of the state of Illinois and the Democratic Party, I will resign."

Cohen made his announcement at a Chicago bar, during Super Bowl half-time, surrounded by his emotional fiance and sons.

"The people who make mistakes in their life should stay focused, go for their dreams," said Cohen, a pawnbroker and owner of a cleaning supply business.

Cohen's dream became a nightmare after his surprise win, when reports emerged that he was arrested and charged in 2005 for domestic battery. Cohen was accused of pushing his girlfriend's head against a wall and holding a knife against her throat. The charges were dropped after she failed to appear in court on the date of the hearing.

Moreover, the girlfriend in question had been arrested for prostitution. Cohen said he was not aware of that charge against her, and that he still does not believe she was a prostitute.

His ex-wife, Debra York-Cohen, accused her former husband of forced sexual attempts, infidelity and steroid use. She even sought an order of protection against him.

Even though York-Cohen stood by his side last week, saying he is a different person now, the pressure on Cohen from the state's Democratic leadership did not wane.

"Tonight, he has made the right decision for the Democratic Party and the people of Illinois," Gov. Pat Quinn, who is running for the governor's seat in November, said in a written statement. "Now we can continue to focus our efforts on putting our economy back on track and working to bring good jobs to Illinois."

Scott Lee Cohen Drops Out of Race

In Illinois, residents vote separately for the nominees for lieutenant governor and governor, which meant that Quinn would have been running on the same ticket as Cohen.

Cohen, who paid for much of the campaign out of his own pocket, denied that he ever covered up the charges and said that he "wanted to talk about all of these issues, but everyone wrote me off, and said I didn't have a chance to win."

But the state's Democratic leadership, which has yet to name a replacement, convinced the candidate to drop out.

Amanda Eneman, the girlfriend who brought the charges against Cohen, issued a statement Saturday saying that based on her observations and Cohen's behavior during their relationship, she "does not believe that he is fit to hold any public office including that of lieutenant governor."

The businessman said Eneman's statement did not affect his decision.

Cohen, a newcomer to politics, surprised many when he beat four state lawmakers to win the Democratic primary.

With Democrats preparing for an uphill battle in this year's mid-term elections in Illinois and across the country, many feared Cohen's scandal could become a distraction for the party and its agenda.

"I just think the Democrats don't need anymore bad news and this is just a headache that they don't need to deal with," said Nathan Gonzales, political editor at the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report.

Quinn faces a tough re-election himself for the seat he occupied after Gov. Rod Blagojevich was ousted.

"I think voters have really begun to focus in on the Democratic side and ask themselves, is it really enough not just to be Rod Blagojevich," Chicago Tribune's veteran political reporter Rick Pearson said on "Top Line" last week.

The state controversy trickled into the national limelight, and threatened to worsen the perception of Illinois politics or "Chicago-style" politics that Republicans have seized on. But despite its Hollywood script and scandal, observers said the Cohen saga is unlikely to hurt Democrats in the long term.

"I don't think that it's going to have an electoral impact outside of Illinois in November," Gonzales said. "I think that this election is going to be about broader themes on economy [and] direction of the country."