Former Reagan Administration official Gary Bauer - whose criticism of homosexuality inspired a gay journalist to try spreading the flu around his Iowa campaign offices, triggering a flap over the journalist's writing about it in an e-zine - is about to drop out of the Republican White House hunt.

A source close to Bauer confirmed the decision to the Associated Press Feb. 3. The source, speaking anonymously, says Bauer plans a Feb. 4 press conference to make the announcement official. It wasn't entirely unexpected, given Bauer's miniscule showings in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary over the past two weeks, but Bauer had recently proclaimed he was not a quitter, either.

Campaigning on a theme of America's "moral downfall," Bauer attacked such matters as state court decisions which supported gay rights. One such blast proved the inadvertent catalyst for the flap which now has e-zine Salon in a fuming controversy: his criticism of a Vermont Supreme Court ruling on domestic partner benefits outraged gay journalist Dan Savage into trying to spread flu germs around Bauer's Iowa offices.

Both Savage and Salon insist the e-zine had no knowledge in advance that Savage was planning the prank. Savage himself wrote, in "Stalking Gary Bauer," that the idea hit him only when he was hospitalized with the flu while in Iowa to write of the caucuses, and had seen Bauer's remarks on television. But the essay has triggered a small firestorm of criticism, and Bauer's Iowa campaign operatives have threatened to hit Salon with a civil action for publishing the piece.

They've also been mulling whether to push assault and vote fraud charges against Savage - who lives in Seattle but registered to vote in Iowa for the caucuses.

Bauer had also demanded an end to abortion on demand and attacked the Clinton Administration's policy with China, calling for revoking normal trade status for the Communist nation.

Like fellow low-tier Republican Presidential hopeful Alan Keyes, Bauer was considered to have been one of the more effective debaters among the GOP field and a fairly effective fund-raiser, mostly by way of a network of conservatives he'd developed as head of the Family Research Council.

But he drew only one percent of the Republican vote in the New Hampshire primary which Arizona Sen. John McCain won handily over Texas Gov. George W. Bush. And Bauer struggled to make an imprint on the national polls as well, the AP Says, finishing only ahead of Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, who pulled out of the race right after the Iowa caucuses.

Bauer's withdrawal leaves McCain, Bush, Keyes, and publisher Steve Forbes to slug it out for the GOP nomination. Forbes can pay for his own campaign and then some, but the Forbes publisher's viability depends on his winning a primary soon, the AP says. Keyes did "surprisingly well" in Iowa and New Hampshire, the AP continues, but he's not likely to make a serious challenge for the nomination.

Bauer had been Ronald Reagan's Undersecretary of Education and, later, Reagan's chief domestic policy advisor. After Reagan's second term expired, Bauer formed and ran the Family Research Council, building it into a non-sectarian rival to the Christian Coalition. In that capacity and as a Presidential aspirant, Bauer often took positions which surprised conservative activists - especially his stances on privacy issues, many of which found Bauer on the side of privacy advocates, even if abortion and homosexuality didn't.