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March 4, 2015

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John Ensign in awkward position headed toward 2012 elections

Ensign’s new poll numbers show him vulnerable, and event with Heller exposes his weak side


AP file

John Ensign, unable to dodge questions about an extramarital dalliance and facing pressure from his own party, finds himself in an awkward position as he attempts to salvage his political career.

Dean Heller

Dean Heller

U.S. Sen. John Ensign’s attempt to salvage his political career will be an awkward affair. That much was apparent Wednesday.

He can’t escape questions about his extramarital dalliance with his best friend’s wife — questions that by their very nature are awkward. And he faces the uncomfortable possibility that his party will throw him overboard in favor of a more popular standard-bearer.

He was confronted by both of those uncomfortable questions and the person who might be willing to replace him at a conference of human resources executives.

Ensign, R-Nev., was a confirmed keynote speaker when Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., accepted at the last minute an invitation to address the gathering.

That led to this scene: The two politicians, standing feet apart and avoiding eye contact at all costs, while addressing reporters’ questions about the 2012 Republican primary that could pit the two against each other.

They alternated between dodging questions about the race and each other, and foreshadowing their resolve to see the race through should such a matchup occur.

“I would be lying to you if I said I wasn’t thinking about it,” Heller said. “But I have no timeline for making that determination.”

Asked if Ensign should consider abandoning the race, Heller spoke a little more strongly: “If John Ensign wants to run for re-election, he has a right to run for re-election, and I don’t mind giving voters a choice if it winds up being a head-to-head.”

Heller then shot a glance at Ensign, just feet away and talking to a television reporter.

But in his speech to the human resources executives, Heller outlined the forces that might keep him where he is: being a member of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, with a coveted seat on the powerful Ways and Means committee and a plum assignment to the Health Care subcommittee that, as he put it, will be “repealing Obamacare.”

Still, Heller hinted that Nevada party leaders are looking for him to run.

For his part, Ensign continued his defiant tone in the face of poll numbers showing him trailing Heller badly and calls from at least one party leader for him to quickly assess whether his pursuing re-election is in the best interest of the party.

“When you saw Harry Reid ahead of his election, what kind of numbers did he have? OK?” Ensign told reporters. “Against every Republican he was down double digits. Last time I checked, he won by over 5 points.”

Recent polls show Ensign’s approval rating well below 50 percent in the wake of the 2-year-old scandal involving his extramarital affair with his best friend’s wife. Both Ensign’s friend, Doug Hampton, and the woman with whom he had the affair, Cynthia Hampton, worked for Ensign.

The Senate Ethics Committee continues to probe whether he violated ethics rules when his parents paid the Hamptons $96,000 and Ensign helped Doug Hampton find a lobbying job after he discovered the affair.

“There’s no question this is going to be very, very difficult,” Ensign said. “I’m well aware of that.”

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  1. Not much in this article.

  2. Look at his voting record and it becomes clear that he prefers to give the super wealthy, swimming in cash, a tax break and while cutting the education budget. No ideas to improve education except increasing the class size to 'improve efficiency'.

  3. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Sharron Angle challenge Ensign in his re-election bid. I think if she were to run, she could beat him.

  4. John Ensign should be getting rather deft at handling "uncofortable positions"...

    What's more uncomfortable than getting caught schtupping your best buddies WIFE, especially when they both WORK FOR YOU?

    What's more uncomfortable than having the world know that your mummy & daddy paid your LIFE-LONG FRIEND and YOUR LOVER nearly a HUNDRED GRAND, an amount JUST SHY of the amount that would land everyone in deeep doo-doo???

    What's more uncomfortable than telling everyone the definition of "MORALITY", and then doing the EXACT OPPOSITE yourself, in secret, and then BEING CAUGHT WITH YOUR PANTS DOWN???

    There are more awkward positions that contortionist Ensign has displayed, but it's really a MOOT POINT:

    He has NO DOUGH and NO SHOT at winning reelection to the Senate in 2012.

  5. Leave it to Senator Ensign to compare his election numbers with Harry Reid. How many more markers does Ensign owe Senator Reid? Will those faulty old voting machines be bumped enough to give Ensign a 5% margin of victory? How many more promises and pledges will Senator Ensign break? Lots of questions. . .

  6. There was an interesting article in the Washington Post yesterday about why Ensign will have a touger time getting re-elected than Sen. David Vitter (RLa) of soliciting a prostitute fame did last November. One of the reasons cited was:

    * The deed: One thing that gets lost in coverage of Ensign's affair is who it was with -- namely, his best friend's wife. While the media in Washington generally refer to her as a former staffer, the media in Nevada are much more apt to mention the close relationship between Ensign, his wife, and two of their best friends. By that measure, a prostitution scandal is preferable. "He's doing worse with men than with women," said one Nevada Republican. "There's sort of a code among men that you don't sleep wit your best friend's wife."

  7. Aw, gmag39, you beat me to it! I was just about to say that when Ensign's in an awkward position, it has nothing to do with politics.

  8. Ensign and Edwards, 2 peas in a pod. Neither one of them have any business in our government.

  9. Ensign is too cheap to spend his own, or his parent's money to get re-elected. He is a non-entity when Nevada needs a champion.

  10. John Ensign likes his Senate pay check, and all the tangible and intangible benefits which come with it. He can certainly run in the Republican primary for reelection. However, should he choose to do so, he will face humiliation in two ways: (1) Public questioning on television by the likes of Jon Ralston and (2) a barrage of ugly TV ads similar to the Chicken Lady ads.

    Politicians often survive the scandal of an affair and retain their party's nomination. However, the sleaze factor in what John Ensign did will allow opponents to begin destroying his bonafides as soon as primary season starts. Dean Heller, or some other primary opponent will benefit from that attack, regardless of its source.

    Democrats may choose NOT to attack John Ensign in the primary campaign, in the hopes of contesting against the weakest candidate for the Senate seat in the general election. Democrats may even get clever, and wage Chicken Lady like attacks against Dean Heller as a means of preserving a weak opponent in the general election.

    The reality is that while John Ensign may get nominal contributions from Republican money stalwarts, the big money in the primary will probably go to the most marketable Republican campaign for the general election.

    Keep enjoying your office while you've got it Senator Ensign. The clock is ticking.