Las Vegas Sun

July 3, 2015

Currently: 104° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

John Ensign will retire after term to avoid ‘exceptionally ugly’ campaign


Steve Marcus

U.S. Sen. John Ensign announces he will not seek another term in 2012 during a news conference at the Lloyd George Federal Building in Las Vegas on Monday, March 7, 2011. Ensign’s wife, Darlene, stands by him at left.

Updated Monday, March 7, 2011 | 2:44 p.m.

Ensign Announcement

U.S. Sen. John Ensign announces he will not seek another term in 2012 during a news conference at the Lloyd George Federal Building in Las Vegas on Monday, March 7, 2011. Ensign's wife, Darlene, stands by him at left. Launch slideshow »

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., announced today that he will retire at the end of his term and not seek re-election in 2012.

"This campaign would be exceptionally ugly," he said this afternoon at a news conference in Las Vegas. "I just came to the conclusion I couldn't put my family through it."

More likely, Ensign realized what most in Washington and Nevada already knew: that his chances for re-election were nearly non-existent.

Once considered a hot political commodity, Ensign fell from grace in 2009 when he announced he had an affair with his best friend's wife. His parents paid the couple, who both worked for Ensign, nearly $100,000 after the affair was discovered, and Ensign helped the woman's husband, Doug Hampton, find a job.

Ensign's wife Darlene stood by his side during today's announcement and rubbed her husband's back as he stated his intentions. Ensign said that both God and his wife have forgiven him.

Ensign also dodged an FBI investigation into his actions, but he's still before the Senate Ethics Committee. Ensign said that investigation had "zero" to do with his decision.

"If I was concerned about that I would resign because then it would go away," he said.

Instead, Ensign appears to have finally taken the cues from his party and decided to step down rather than be crushed in a primary.

The senator said he made the decision last week. He broke the news to Gov. Brian Sandoval this morning.

“I appreciate Sen. Ensign’s years of service to Nevada as a member of Congress and in the U.S. Senate, and I respect the decision he and his family have made,” Sandoval said.

While Ensign continued to campaign and fundraise as recently as last month and insisted he could win, he received lackluster support from the GOP. Republican Party leaders are more concerned with keeping the seat red than protecting Ensign's political future and they were loath to support him financially.

A recent poll showed Ensign losing to every potential Democratic challenger. His approval rating is just 35 percent.

And challengers from his own party - most notably Rep. Dean Heller - were nipping at his heels.

Heller has not announced his intentions but is widely expected to run for the seat.

"This must have been a very difficult decision for John to make," Heller said today. "He and his family have been through a lot. Lynne and I wish them the very best."

Last month, Heller's internal polling showed he would beat Ensign by about 15 points in a potential primary.

Heller has also polled about 14 points stronger than Ensign in potential match-ups against Democrats, including Rep. Shelley Berkley, who is considering a bid.

But Democrats aren't willing to cede victory yet.

"We've been preparing to run against Dean Heller since Day One," Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee communications director Eric Schultz said.

Democrats point out that Heller's political popularity has been safeguarded thus far because he has never had to face a competitive statewide race and represents a district that has been solidly Republican since it was created after the 1980 census.

While Heller's district does reach far downstate, he's never had to hold a large portion of the Democratic-leaning Las Vegas area, where most of the state's population is concentrated.

"Dean Heller is not as strong as he likes to portray himself," said one senior Democratic strategist with ties to the state, who asked not to be named.

The true testing grounds for Heller's cross-party appeal will come through his performance in the urban areas of his district, like Washoe County, Democrats say. There, the picture isn't quite so decisive: Heller beat Democrat Jill Derby by only 5 percent in 2006, and by barely 1 percent in 2008.

While there's not much polling for Heller in Clark county, an April 2009 study shows he's got work to do in building up a reputation here. He polled 18 percent favorably and 15 percent unfavorably -- a pretty even split, but one that suggests about two-thirds of voters in Clark County have no idea who Dean Heller is.

Heller is almost equally unknown among Nevada's influential Hispanic community.

While Berkley polls strongly both in Las Vegas (which she has represented in Congress for 12 years) and with the state's growing Hispanic population, she is untested in rural areas and Washoe county.

“Sen. Ensign spoke from the heart and acknowledged that this was a decision he made for his family and for the people of Nevada," Berkley said today. "I have said from the outset that my plans do not depend on whose name appears on the ballot. Should I choose to pursue a seat in the Senate, I will run on my record."

The DSCC already has recruited a bench of candidates in case Berkley decides against a bid. The list includes Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller.

Cortez Masto and Miller are expected to defer their announcements until after Berkley declares her intentions one way or the other. Democratic strategists expect Berkley will make her 2012 plans known in the early spring.

"Nevada is now an open seat and ripe for a Democratic pickup," DSCC Executive Director Guy Cecil said. "It remains high on our target list."

Cecil said Democrats will have the resources needed to win the seat and plan to run a grassroots campaign that rivals those seen in 2008 and 2010. Democrats also point out that Nevada has been trending Democratic, evidenced by the state's selection of President Obama.

The DSCC has identified Ensign's seat in Nevada, and Scott Brown's Massachusetts seat, as their two best pickup opportunities in 2012. The GOP has only 10 Senate seats to defend, while Democrats are trying to hold onto 23.

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: 33 comments so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy. Additionally, we now display comments from trusted commenters by default. Those wishing to become a trusted commenter need to verify their identity or sign in with Facebook Connect to tie their Facebook account to their Las Vegas Sun account. For more on this change, read our story about how it works and why we did it.

Only trusted comments are displayed on this page. Untrusted comments have expired from this story.

  1. Holy crap. PLEASE don't decide to cave to political pressure and not run for your seat. You are NEEDED in the race! The GOP needs to look as ridiculous as possible backing you!

  2. Mark-LOL.

  3. It would be better if he resigned today. This way Heller could be appointed and start clocking some seniority.

  4. Sorry to see him go, he typified Republican Family values. I wonder if the Casino Crowd is going to asked for their money back?

    I want a refund of the 86 cents I sent him. I wonder if he is going to get his shoes shined later on the Alan Stock Republican News Show?

    This is going to be fun however. Haven't had so much fun since the Reichklaven Twins at the Brand X Newspaper got demoted.

  5. Does this mean round 2 of The Crazy Cat Lady???

  6. Looks like Ralston is going to get a lot of face time on cable TV tonight.

    Does this mean Doug Hampton gets fired out at the airline?

    Will the Chicken Lady throw her pullet gizzard into the ring? Angle has a bit of money left too. She considers Heller a "Democrat" BTW. Maybe Heidi Harris will be her campaign manager this time around?

    He must have a lot to hide, the "Chicken Man" chickens out.

    Maybe Rightklaven will sue him for quoting himself?

  7. Lets see if Mrs. Hypocritical Extremist and anti military Sharon Angle tries to run for this seat.

  8. John Porter?

  9. Heller will win, hand's down....

  10. Hell of a guy. He's only going to put his family "through this" until January 2013.

  11. Doesn't Heller have a nanny prodlem?

    Ensign can do a hair products commercial with Charlie Sheen.

  12. A pretty good day for Nevada. Could have been better if he resigned, but we will see.

  13. Looks like Earth finally made it through to Ensign. I didn't really care any more anyway since Heller has a lock but it was nice of Ensign to spare his family from the pain of the campaign.

  14. He came to the conclusion he couldn't put his family through this? What exactly has he been doing for nearly two years?

    What about his constituent? Remember the people he is supposed to represent?

    He should resign now and save his family and this state more of this.

  15. Darnit.

    I actually wanted to see Senator Ensign get the nomination for the Republican Party candidacy in 2012 for this Senate Seat.

    That way all of us level headed and rational voters can slap him silly and out of power with our votes.

    But, that's okay.

    We got rid of Lowden.

    We got rid of Angle.

    We now got rid of Ensign.

    Next one in the sights that's as useless as Charlie Sheen in a drug prevention television commercial is my Congressman (Heck).

    One at a time.

    We get rid of them all and fix Nevada.

  16. I don't think Ensign made any more errors in judgement than a lot of Senators, but I don't think he was especially effective for the state.

    Whoever runs, on either side, I hope we elect someone who's interested in helping the state and the nation rather than spending six years trying to get re-elected and taking a ton of special interest money.

  17. Unlike Democrats, when a Republican is caught in a scandal (Such as Ensign), he becomes unelectable. Most of us Republicans do hold our elected officials to a higher standard. When one goes bad (and mred, etc. try to paint that as typical of all republicans), the typical republican voter is disgusted and embarrased. (unlike Clinton or Barney Frank voters who look the other way). He wouldn't win the primary if he ran. He's smart to retire and move on. Now the dem's don't have the "easy" campaign they would have had against Ensign.

  18. That Mrs. Ensign is easy to look at if I were a single man I believe I would knock on her door and ask if she could come out and play.

  19. "Unlike Democrats, when a Republican is caught in a scandal (Such as Ensign), he becomes unelectable."

    Save us the sanctimonious "Rs are better than Ds", Joe.

    Need I remind you of one sitting Senator from Louisiana known for his penchant for prostitutes and diapers?

  20. I smell a conspiracy here.

    First, Charlie Sheen is fired. Then, without advance warning, Ensign decides not to run.

    Could it be that the two are going to party together?

    That cash that Ensign just got from the casino moguls will pay for a hell of a party. Rock on, John!

  21. Fact check. Some GOPer wrote "when a Republican is caught in a scandal (Such as Ensign), he becomes unelectable."

    You might want to check the case of Republican Sen. John Vitter of Louisiana. He was just re-elected, despite his prostitute problems -- yes, plural. Part of the DC Madam scandal.

  22. Yes, both Democrats and Republicans get caught in sex scandals. But it is the Republican Party that claims to be more religious, that claims to be the party of "family values," and makes direct appeals to Christian fundamentalists.

    Thus, when Republicans are shown up as hypocrites, it hurts them more.

    Newt Gingrich, Mr. Family Values himself, immersed in a long-term affair while he condemned Clinton for the same.

    Larry Craig, condemning gay rights while he took his "wide stance" in the men's bathroom.

    Vitter of Louisiana, spouting family values, getting caught with a prostitute and diaper problem.

    It's not the sex, it's the hypocrisy that hurts Republicans so much.

  23. He's not running because mommy and daddy cut him off, and the only people giving him money are a few old fossil casino people in baggy polyester pants.

    Too cheap to spend his own money. Looks like his wife is going to divorce him too.

  24. Sen. John Ensign, one of seven Republican senators to BACK THE REPEAL of DADT: "It is my firm belief that Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation, should be able to fight and risk their lives in defense of this great nation".
    He did the right thing. He put our country first because he realized that good soldiers were losing their careers when we needed them the most... while we are fighting two wars.
    Now I'm no political friend of Sen. Ensign. We would disagree about 99 9/10% on issues BUT maybe his personal transgressions could have made him a better senator. I don't do the "D" thing or the "R" thing anymore. I look for changed hearts and minds. I look for people who put individual freedom ahead of dogma.
    Unless he committed a crime, and possibly he did, he should have run for re-election. We need humbled leaders instead of arrogant ones.
    Stuart & Robert Wyman-Cahall
    Las Vegas, NV 89142

  25. Goodnight, John boy.

  26. FINALLY! Some good news!

  27. Did anyone watch the clip of this show? He says he is doing this for his family but then at the end of the press conference he turns around and walks out leaving his wife standing there.
    Way to show respect Johnny Boink.

  28. Woody, Kevin, etc. I guess in Louisiana, scandal is O.K., regardless of party. The dems had a worthless, scandal ridden governor who was re-elected (In all fairness, he ran against David Duke, who no decent person would ever vote for).
    I think a scandal on your resune is required of politicians in Louisiana. Everyone blames Bush for Katrina mishaps, but the local and state representatives are the ones who really dropped the ball on that one.
    I seriously doubt that Gingrich will gain any traction in 2012, because of his past personal problems.
    I'm certainly no Christian fundamentalist or tea party person, but I do hold the politicians I vote for to a high standard and a scandal such as Ensign's would cause me not to vote for them.
    Ensign did the right thing by bowing out. I, however, do not wish the ill on him that some on this post are. Let the man finish his term, retire and move on. He's paying the price.

  29. Paging Sharron Angle...


  30. Anyone that lies about FDR is no friend of mine.

  31. You reap what you sow!

  32. He should have resigned long ago. What a clown!

  33. John Ensign let down his family and the people of Nevada. He should resign right now so his family doesn't have to go through anymore of this and the people of this state get the represenation in the US Senate they are entitled to.

    His wife and family have stood by him and endured a great deal on his behalf. The least he could do it let them start moving on by resigning today.