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Rob Miller, a candidate for Utah Democratic Party chairman facing accusations of sexual harassment, dropped out of the race early Thursday and also said he's leaving the party.
Miller made the 1:40 a.m. announcement on his Facebook page, just hours after protesters chased him out of a party forum.
"By 5 p.m. today, I will officially become an unaffiliated voter. It is time for new blood," Miller wrote in a post that did not include an endorsement of any other candidates, though he did say, "There are three qualified women running and I like the men too."
Miller has strongly denied the accusations from seven women deeply involved in state Democratic politics, though he didn't mention the complaints against him in his post.
At the Wednesday forum, his fellow candidates never directly addressed the sexual harassment allegations against Miller, but every time Miller spoke, up to half of the audience stood and turned its back to him. Moderator Scott Howell threatened to have officers remove them for blocking the view of others but Miller asked to let them remain and stand.
He vowed to stay in the race so he could give a final five-minute speech at the party's June 17 convention and then walked out of the forum at the Capitol.
"I'm doing this for the rest of the candidates, who have worked just as hard as I have, so they can be heard" without distractions from the protests and allegations against him, he said in the hallway.
He added, "I'm staying in [the campaign] until the end."
Miller said he wants a speech at the convention because "I think we need to be reminded what the Utah Democratic Party is supposed to be."
Before all that happened, Miller said he had received several anonymous calls warning about trouble if he attended the forum, and some attacking the allegations against him.
"This is unprecedented gutter politics," he said earlier. "We're going to win this thing because the Utah Democratic Party has lost its way and is at a new low."
In his Facebook post withdrawing from the race hours later, Miller struck a different tone.
"I appreciate everyone who attended tonight's forum," he said. "I heard your voice and I stood up for your voice, twice. Not a bad way to also say goodbye. Those who protested were peaceful and for that I thank and appreciate you."
The forum took place at the same time as the party's judiciary committee held a closed-door meeting to consider what to do about the allegations against Miller.
Party Chairman Peter Corroon declined to discuss much about what happened in that meeting.
He said in a text message that the final report of the committee will be made public, "But the remainder of the judicial committee's proceedings are closed. We ask that you respect the privacy of these deliberations and that of the accused and accusers, and not seek further comment from them until this matter concludes."
Many attendees of Wednesday's forum demonstrated disgust at Miller.
When it was his turn to introduce himself at the Capitol event, half of the audience members stood and turned their backs to him. Miller halted and stared silently for several seconds. Then, he simply said, "I'm Rob Miller," and stopped.
The audience sat back down.
Howell, a former U.S. Senate candidate, asked the audience to show civility. The next time Miller spoke, three women stood and turned away from him including Kate Kelly, an activist known for pushing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to ordain women to its priesthood.
When Howell asked them to sit so people behind them could see, Kelly and allies walked to the side of the room and refused to sit or respond to Howell even when he threatened to have them removed. They continued standing as Miller answered a question about how he would improve recruitment of candidates.
The next time Miller tried to speak, 10 protesters stood and Howell asked a Utah Highway Patrol officer to remove Kelly. Miller interrupted and asked to allow her and others to remain and stand and then he left.
That did not end the fireworks. Howell still threatened to remove a protester, Tina Escobar Taft, who held a sign saying, "Stop protecting sexual predators." Her son held one saying, "I believe Elizabeth, June, Jennifer, Sheryl, Ellen and Jill" the women who said they witnessed sexual misconduct by Miller.
Taft said they would have to handcuff her to remove her. She was allowed to remain but a dozen or so protesters stood for the rest of the two-hour event with their backs turned to protest what Howell did.
Last week, The Salt Lake Tribune obtained a letter from seven women who said they witnessed several instances of sexual misconduct, including that Miller hugged and kissed women without consent, stroked their hair without permission, pulled down his pants to show LDS undergarments (when he was an active Mormon) and turned a supposed job interview into a request to date him.
The letter to party leaders was signed by Mary Brady-Bishop, former Salt Lake County Democratic chairwoman; Celina Milner, former state Senate candidate; Elizabeth Converse, communications director for Utah House Democrats; national delegates Sheryl Ginsberg and Ellen Brady; Jennifer Miller-Smith, a self-described party supervolunteer; and Jill Haring, a Republican married to a Democratic blogger.
Miller denies the allegations and said, "There is no sexual harassment." He called it a last-minute political smear against him by women who want to elect a female party boss. Nine people are running for the post, including four women.
Miller, a former party vice chairman and treasurer, had been seen as a front-runner.
On Wednesday, two groups of Democrats called for Miller to drop out the Young Democrats of Utah and the Democratic leaders in House District 24 (an area of downtown Salt Lake City, Capitol Hill and the Avenues).
"Given the sensitive nature of this matter, we ask candidate Rob Miller to formally withdraw," leaders of the Young Democrats said in a statement. "Given the circumstances, we don't believe Mr. Miller can effectively unify or lead the Democratic Party."
The group also said it wants to "recognize the bravery of those who have come forth, and encourage others to offer their love and support. We all need to start by believing."
Michael Iverson and Maria C. Hiatt, legislative district chairman and vice-chairwoman, respectively, echoed such sentiments and also called for Miller to withdraw. "As legislative district officers, we commit to start by believing" in fighting sexual harassment."
Editor Matt Canham contributed to this article.