Rob Clarke is dropping out of the Saskatchewan Party leadership race and throwing his support behind Ken Cheveldayoff.

In a news release Wednesday, the former MP said he is leaving the leadership race to avoid a damaging vote-splitting scenario that could pave the way for a majority NDP government.

"I still think I could have had a good chance of winning this, but I just don't want to split the membership," said Clarke.

Clarke had previously described himself as the Sask. NDP's worst nightmare when he entered the race less than a month ago. 

Clarke had to pay a $25,000 fee to enter the race, $10,000 of which was non-refundable upon entry. He would have been refunded $15,000 had he stayed in the race until the end.

His decision to leave the race and endorse Cheveldayoff means he won't be refunded that money.

"It's a substantial amount of money, but what I want to do is I want to talk about the issues that are facing Saskatchewan," said Clarke.

"I want to talk about the GTH. I want to talk about the insider deals. I want to talk about northern issues. I also want to talk about justice reform, but also about First Nations issues as well. I think I succeeded in that, and you can't put a price on that."

Says party not engaging the membership

Clarke said he is supporting Cheveldayoff because he has shown a genuine commitment to renewing and growing the party, and said he is the best hope for stopping the NDP in 2020.

"When I entered the race, I looked at what was taking place just with regard to the Sask. Party," said Clarke.

"They weren't engaging the grassroots membership. It was basically top-heavy, almost like a dictatorship."

Clarke said he thinks Cheveldayoff is the candidate who can change that.

"He is truly committed to building a bigger, better party that treats grassroots members with the respect they deserve, and I'm proud to lend him my support," said Clarke in a news release.

Clarke said he will continue advocating for reform within the party.

Cheveldayoff responds

In a release, Cheveldayoff said he was encouraged by the vote of confidence.

"From the outset, our campaign has been focused on the true grassroots, working to reconnect our party with our rural roots and keep us urban strong so that we can win the next election in 2020, and build the next decade of growth for Saskatchewan," Cheveldayoff said.

Cheveldayoff also praised Clarke for making an increased Sask. Party membership among northern and First Nations communities a priority. 

Gordon Wyant, Alanna Koch, Tina Beaudry-Mellor, Scott Moe and Ken Cheveldayoff remain in the race for the Sask. Party's next leader.

The party will choose its new leader in January, and that person will replace Brad Wall as premier of Saskatchewan.