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April 20, 2014

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the senator’s scandal:

Facing re-election bid, will John Ensign be left in the cold?

Republican meeting with National Republican Senatorial Committee on raising money for his 2012 bid to retain his Senate seat

UPDATED STORY: Senate Ethics Committee appoints special counsel in John Ensign case

WASHINGTON - Not too long ago, Sen. John Ensign holding an event at the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s Washington headquarters was hardly cause for a headline. After all, from 2006 to 2008, when he was chairman of the organization that works to elect Republicans to the U.S. Senate, it was his house.

But when Ensign convenes a meeting with key re-election fundraisers and strategists there today, he’s entering as a guest — and hoping that a few months from now, they keep letting him in.

Ensign is the only person who has officially declared intentions to run for the Senate seat he currently holds in 2012, but even in a field that doesn’t yet officially include anybody else, many analysts think he is the longest shot to win.

Ensign is still struggling with ethics accusations stemming from an affair with former aide Cynthia Hampton, whose husband, Doug, was also an employee of Ensign’s.

Although the Justice Department dropped its investigation of the senator’s actions in the wake of the affair, and the Federal Election Commission refused to start one, the fight is not over for him until the Senate Ethics Committee renders its verdict on whether to indict him.

But in the race to save his seat, Ensign doesn’t have time to wait.

Right now, Ensign’s got access to the resources, and most importantly, the Rolodexes of the Senatorial Committee — deep-pocketed Republicans he knows from years of fronting the GOP’s re-election machine. He’s also got their attention as an outspoken advocate for spending cuts who will be sitting on several influential committees for the next two years: Budget, Finance, Homeland Security and Government Affairs, and Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

But that all likely dries up if another candidate makes his or her intentions known — a possibility that won’t escape potential donors, Nevada Republicans say.

“I think that if they write the checks, they’ll be smaller in amount,” former Nevada Gov. Bob List said. “They’re going to be more reluctant to open up big time, because of the unknown.”

Last month, Ensign set a fundraising benchmark: $1 million. If he can raise that by the end of June, he said on Nevada Public Radio, “I think that would be a healthy number,” and enough to shore up his candidacy.

If he’s nervous about a potential primary challenge — and all eyes are on Rep. Dean Heller to mount one — he’s not showing it. Ensign told reporters at a January conference in Reno that he wasn’t worried about a primary challenge, although he acknowledged his campaign would be “very, very difficult” because of the scandal surrounding him.

But the sum is a modest one for an uphill battle.

According to records filed in the third quarter of 2010, Heller has more than $850,000 on hand and presumed Democratic challenger Rep. Shelley Berkley, more than $1.1 million — compared with barely $300,000 for Ensign.

But Ensign says he isn’t feeling any special pressure to add to his figure dramatically during today’s strategy session with his campaign fundraisers and minds, where they’ll likely assess the odds, give him tips, reach out to potential donors and go-to check writers. “It’s all part of the process,” Ensign said.

The national stage will likely have to be a significant part of Ensign’s process, given polls show his unpopularity at home. This is where the Senatorial Committee could be a valuable resource for Ensign.

Last month, a Public Policy Polling survey showed Ensign trailing Heller by an average of 14 points in potential matchups against Berkley and Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, another Democrat whose name has been tossed around for a potential 2012 run.

His solo numbers weren’t much better: 59 percent of state respondents said he shouldn’t bother running, and only 35 percent approved of the job he’s done thus far.

Click to enlarge photo

John Ensign

Ensign insisted that his numbers were no worse than approval ratings for Nevada’s senior senator, Democrat Harry Reid, several months before he won re-election against Sharron Angle. But Reid wasn’t under investigation.

There’s also the example of Louisiana’s Republican Sen. David Vitter, who was shown to have solicited the services of a Washington call-girl ring madam, but still won against Democratic challenger Charlie Melancon by a 20-point landslide in 2010.

But Vitter wasn’t under investigation, either. And his party didn’t disown him.

To be fair, the national Republican Party hasn’t disowned Ensign. But it isn’t sticking up for him either, not even in the casual hints and winks that often signal whether top party brass plans to protect incumbents. The decision makers in this case are being careful to be unopinionated.

“We make the NRSC facilities available to all senators,” said Senatorial Committee Chairman and Texas Sen. John Cornyn. “I have not talked to anybody about that race.”

But other Republicans are talking, and wondering whether the dollars Ensign pulls in could help him resuscitate his tarnished image.

“It’s really all about fundraising,” List said. “If it’s successful, that can translate into communication with the voter base, and ultimately could result in an enhanced standing.”

But whatever today’s efforts yield, the sense among state Republicans is that Ensign’s national fundraising ability is likely to be the litmus test for how big his campaign chest can grow, as he’s likely to fare better with national donors than he is in state.

The Senatorial Committee is a heavy-handed fundraiser, raising almost $79 million during the 2010 midterms cycle for candidates nationwide. And apparently it knows how to spend those dollars — although Democrats raised more than $104 million, they also lost six seats.

But Ensign isn’t yet buying the rationale that his best hopes are in his old stamping grounds.

“We gotta raise money here, there and everywhere,” he said.

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  1. Go away Senator Ensign.

  2. John Mubarak Ensign, I sent him 86 cents for his legal fund and he didn't report it, guess I'll have to send it certified next time and a copy to the authorities.

    He is only supported by a handful of fading casino people, one of whom said under oath he was taking medication and couldn't think clearly for a time.

    A couple of low-rated talk stations give him time (20th and 23rd in the ratings of local stations) very few people hear him there and he is usually stuttering and stammering. Even Heller is about 3 times more articulate than Ensign.

    Ensign is a nobody, except daddy owned a casino. He was given some make work job out there for a time, bossing around the underlings in a angry and mean fashion. His Vet business was run by his partner. I think we will hear about Ensign melting down in the future. Where is his wife or girlfriend by the way?

    Also, what credibility does Allegiant Air have when they hire Doug Hampton? Are their personnel policies fair?

  3. The voters will out him - hopefully for once they will make a good decision unlike the one for Governor.

  4. "'It's really all about fundraising,' List said. 'If it's successful, that can translate into communication with the voter base, and ultimately could result in an enhanced standing.'"

    Mr. List is wrong. It's not about fund raising. It's about votes.

    This is Nevada. You can't buy a Senate race here.

    Ask Sharron Angle. She tried. It didn't work.

    And it's not going to work with Ensign.

    He's toast. He's unelectable. He's just too full of himself to admit it.

    But, because of that, he'll be a ball and chain tied to the Nevada Republican Party.

    And that's fine. Go for it. Waste their money.

  5. Go, Johnny! Go get 'em. Win that GOP primary. The Nevada GOoPers, the party of Himbo Gibbons and Sharrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrron Angle, deserve you. It's the perfect match made in hell. ;-)

  6. Good point, List only thinks about money. A failed governor who sold out to the nuclear waste industry, trying a sad figure on the scene.

  7. Senator Ensign has not honored a pledge made to this constituent.Senator Ensign believes and has shown through correspondence a miner is not entitled to work in a safe environment or have a timely valid formal complaint investigated. Unfortunately Senator Ensign is only worried about "his job" and not working miners in unsafe and dangerous conditions. Senator Ensign continues to fail in "working hard to earn back Nevadans trust". Senator Ensigns failure to act for a constituent that asked for help continues to show John Ensign is not working his rear off for Nevadans that request constituent services. Senator Ensign adds no value or benefit to Nevada voters. PRupp B125 SP NV 89047

  8. As a Republican (from another state), I think the road will be a tough one for Ensign. Republican voters expect integrity from their candidates, and when let down, we stay away in droves, we don't rally around them. I see him as a very long shot to win. If he was on my ballot, I wouldn't vote for him. A Republican who has gone bad usually does not stand a chance, even with those who once supported him. We vote for "family values" and the like, and what he did is against our beliefs. If you can't get your own former supporters on your side, the writing is on the wall. He should step aside in the next election and let someone else run.
    Of couurse, don't worry about mred, he has a field day when a Republican goes bad, but somehow doesn't hold the same standards to his own candidates (Reid, etc.). Well, then again, Harry may be a terrible Senator, but at least he hasn't messed around with his friend's wife, Even I'll give him credit for that.

  9. The real question is whether or not Nevada Republicans will recruit someone to run against Ensign in the primary. If the Party leaders stress party loyalty over service to the state then they will lose.

    I am not unbiased in this. I hope we can recruit and vet a good candidate to run as a Whig for that seat in 2012. (emphasis on "good")

  10. Johnny, its time to hang up your spurs,...put yourself out to pasture,...or the voters will.

  11. C_Bess, read my post above, I'm not alone, most Republicans I know (Including some in Nevada) want nothing to do with the likes of Ensign. Many who voted for him before his scandal are embarrassed and will not vote for him next time around.
    Unlike Clinton voters, who used (as you described) "situational ethics" and re-elected him anyway. I expect better from our elected officials, and it doesn't matter what party they belong to.