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Nevada Senator Ensign Admits Affair With Former Staffer
"This is yet another reminder as to why the American people have chosen new management for the foreseeable future," said John Weaver, a former senior adviser to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). "Nothing is shocking in Washington, of course, except the audacity of politicians who believe rules don't apply to them."
Others suggested that Ensign's affair was an isolated incident that would have little impact on the party. "This news is a personal issue affecting John Ensign, his family and their privacy," said Kevin Madden, a Republican consultant and senior adviser to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. "I'd argue that it's an analytical reach for opponents to try and assign a negative political impact on the fortunes of the national party because of this revelation."
Ensign acknowledged in a recent interview with The Washington Post that he was seeking to raise his national profile out of a belief that a dearth of effective GOP messengers was handicapping the party's comeback. "We have a responsibility to get our message out," Ensign said. Asked directly about his presidential ambitions, he said that most children dream of being president one day and that it was "not something I would ever rule out."
Ensign's political career appeared to be all but dead a decade ago, after he lost to Reid by the razor-thin margin of 428 votes in their bitter 1998 race. But then Nevada's other senator, Democrat Richard H. Bryan, announced his intention to retire in 2000, and Ensign jumped into that race, easily winning office and quickly becoming a favorite of GOP leaders.
The son of a casino magnate, Ensign is a prodigious fundraiser and was tasked with chairing the National Republican Senatorial Committee in the 2008 election cycle, a brutal period for Republicans. Despite overseeing the loss of at least seven seats, Ensign was not blamed and instead was promoted to be chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, the No. 4 leadership position for Senate Republicans.
Ensign's personal life has caused other absences from the Capitol in the past.
In February 2002, Ensign took an unexplained two-week leave from the Senate, citing "personal reasons." When he returned, he told the Las Vegas Sun that he was "not making any comments one way or the other. I'm just asking people to respect my privacy."
Staff writer James V. Grimaldi contributed to this report.