Senator John Ensign is expected to announce in the next hour or so that he will not be seeking a third term in 2012. The Nevada Republican has been battling for his political life since copping to an affair with a former staffer and the wife of one of his closest friends. Ensign had been trailing GOP Rep. Dean Heller, who was widely expected to challenge him, in polls by double digits for months. He was so unpopular that when he held a fundraiser at the National Republican Campaign Committee last month, the committee was quick to clarify he was just borrowing the space.
The old political (admittedly low) bar used to be that politicians found with a “either a dead girl or a live boy,” as former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards once joked, were pretty much out. That standard has obviously changed as gay rights have become more widely accepted, and as morality has made a comeback. That said, it’s important to ask how Ensign failed where his friend and GOP colleague, Louisiana Senator David Vitter, succeeded.
Vitter’s phone number came up in the infamous DC madam’s call list in 2007. He admitted his “sin” and apologized to family and went into seclusion. Vitter, though, was lucky — for lack of a better word — in two ways. First, the DC madam, Deborah Jeane Palfrey, committed suicide before
taking the stand* a potentially lengthy appeals process, thus saving Vitter from an extended and humiliating trial. And secondly, Louisiana’s Republican Party had a very shallow bench at that time. Vitter won reelection last year with 56.6% of the vote.
Ensign, on the other hand, has not endeared himself to the Nevada Republican Party by insisting on holding on through the 2010 elections, weakening the Party at a time when Republicans had their best shot of taking down Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Reid won reelection with 50.29% of the vote. It also didn’t help that Heller, a highly appealing candidate, was waiting in the wings. And, although a federal inquiry cleared Ensign of any wrongdoing, there was an unsavory feeling to the case that lingered – even in a state like Nevada, home to Las Vegas. Ensign’s parents paid off the wronged husband to keep in him quiet and Ensign himself allegedly tried to throw the man lobbying business to keep him from going public. The Senate Ethics panel last month accelerated its investigation of Ensign, though it was unlikely they would find wrongdoing where the feds didn’t. All of which is to say, what happened to this Nevada Senator may have stayed in Nevada, but not in a good way.
*A reader reminds me that Palfrey committed suicide after the first trial and conviction, where none of her famous clients were called.
Ensign’s statement is below:
As many of you know, the last couple of years have been very difficult for my family, staff, friends and so many of my supporters. I cannot express how sorry I am for the pain that I have caused everyone.
As I have learned through my mistake, there are consequences to sin. When a person is in a leadership role, those consequences can affect a lot of people in a very negative way.
I know that God has forgiven me, and so has my wife. Darlene and I are doing better than ever and have gotten through this with a stronger marriage for which I am incredibly thankful. I can only hope that someday all those whom I have hurt or disappointed will find it in their hearts to forgive me, as well.
I have learned how important mercy and love are, and I hope to be able to share these with the people in my life who need it.
I have worked very hard to earn back the trust of the people in this state. As I have traveled across Nevada during this time, I have encountered many challenges, but also many offers of financial support and for volunteers on my reelection campaign; I cannot tell you how very appreciative I am to those who have stood by me during some of my darkest hours.
In particular, I want to thank my loyal staff who have not only stood with me during this time, but also handled themselves with grace and dignity under very trying circumstances. I consider them part of my extended family and will never be able to repay them for what they have done for me.
Having said all that, I have come to the most difficult decision of my life. It has been difficult because I have never loved a job as much or been as honored to serve in any position than that of your senator.
I have tried my best to work hard and to vote consistently with the values of our state.
I do not want to put my family, those that I care about, or this state through what would be a very ugly campaign that would ultimately cause a great deal more pain than has already been felt as a result of my actions. For these reasons, I will not seek reelection in 2012.
I have made this decision so that I can focus harder than ever before on making this country and this state better than they are today, rather than dealing with the distractions stemming from a reelection bid.
These next two years will be the fight of my life, not for my political career, but for the future of our country. My fight will be dedicated to those who believed in me all those years ago and to all Nevadans who have elected me and trusted me to serve on their behalf. I will serve you wholeheartedly for the rest of my term.
This is not the end; but rather the beginning of an incredible journey. There are tremendous challenges that we face as a nation, but there is also great opportunity to ensure that the decisions being made back in Washington, D.C., do not lead to the end of the road for the United States. I am energized, but more importantly, I am committed to making sure that I meet with folks who will take the time to share their concerns with me, to share their struggle, and to join with me in creating solutions that we can achieve together.
I have until the end of 2012 to fiercely fight for the people of Nevada and against the downward spiral of our country, and fight is what I plan to do for all of you. It will continue to be the greatest honor to serve you.