DES MOINES, Iowa — A popular Democratic candidate dropped out of Iowa’s crowded race for governor on Thursday, one day after an Iowa newspaper reported three women had accused him of sexual misconduct that involved inappropriate touching.

Nate Boulton, a Des Moines attorney and state senator, announced in an emailed statement that he had suspended his campaign. He alluded to the accusations reported Wednesday in The Des Moines Register.

“These last 48 hours have been trying. I again offer an apology to those whom I have harmed in any way. It is my hope there is some positive that can come from this moment as we strive to be the better people we can be in the coming days, weeks, months, and years. I know that will be my task moving on from here.”

The women told the newspaper that Boulton touched them inappropriately during separate incidents several years ago. One woman alleged Boulton repeatedly grabbed her buttocks at a bar in 2015. Two other women said he rubbed his clothed crotch against them in separate incidents more than a decade ago.

Boulton, who married his second wife in 2014 after divorcing his first in 2011, released a statement shortly after the report was published that did not deny the accusations. The 38-year-old apologized to the women, but his campaign also attempted at first to argue the alleged incidents did not equate to more serious misconduct accusations lodged against others.

In the aftermath of the report, a mix of Democrats and Republicans called on Boulton to quit the race. Some have also demanded he resign from the Iowa Senate, an issue he did not address in his statement.

Sen. Janet Petersen, the minority leader in the Iowa Senate who endorsed Boulton’s candidacy, released a statement Thursday morning calling on Boulton to resign from the chamber.

“If he chooses not to do so, I will support a full, independent investigation into allegations against him,” the Des Moines Democrat said.

Boulton’s departure comes less than two weeks before the June 5 Democratic primary for governor. Five other Democrats are seeking to unseat Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds in the November midterm election, and the race is seen as a measure of whether Iowa Democrats are recovering after several years of Republican victories in the state.

The Democratic contest could be decided in a party convention if no candidate secures at least 35 percent of the vote next month.

Data from the secretary of state’s office shows more than 13,000 Democrats had voted by absentee ballot as of Wednesday, when the allegations were first reported. It’s unclear for now if enough people had voted for Boulton to shift the outcome of the primary. He was among the top contenders in the race, according to a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll released earlier this month.

Boulton, first elected to the Iowa Senate in 2016, had been considered a rising star in the Democratic party. His chamber floor speeches against Republican-backed legislation that revamped workers’ rights made him a favorite of labor unions. Many financially supported his campaign and endorsed him.

On Thursday, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, whose Council 61 represents thousands of state employees in Iowa, released a statement in support of Boulton’s exit.

The organization’s president, Danny Homan added: “As a union that believes in the dignity of all work and all workers, we take allegations of sexual misconduct very seriously.”

Associated Press writer Scott Stewart in Des Moines contributed to this report.

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