Republican Sen. John Ensign of Nevada won't seek reelection

"There are consequences to sin," Sen. John Ensign, with his wife, Darlene, said at a news conference in Las Vegas. (Oskar Garcia)
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By Chris Cillizza and Paul Kane
Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) will not seek reelection in 2012, bringing to an end a tumultuous several years following an extramarital affair with a former staff member.

"There are consequences to sin," Ensign said at a news conference in Las Vegas. He said he did not want to put his family through an "exceptionally ugly" campaign.

Ensign, who was first elected to the Senate in 2000 after two terms in the House, is the third Republican to announce that he will not run in 2012. He follows Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Tex.) and Jon Kyl (Ariz.) to the sidelines. Four Democrats, as well as Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), who caucuses with Democrats, are also not seeking reelection in 2012.

Ensign's decision comes amid a Senate ethics committee investigation of whether he acted improperly in an affair with Cynthia Hampton, who worked for his political committees and whose husband, Doug, was a top legislative staff member for the senator.

In spring 2008, Ensign dismissed the Hamptons from his payroll. His parents, who are Las Vegas casino magnates, issued nearly $100,000 in checks to the couple and their children, in what were officially termed gifts.

In the months that followed, Ensign allegedly helped Doug Hampton land a lobbying job in Nevada and then helped him sign clients and gain access to officials in Washington. This came during the "cooling-off" period for Hampton, when he was legally barred from lobbying Ensign.

The Senate ethics committee recently decided to ramp up its investigation of the senator, announcing that it had hired an outside counsel to handle the inquiry.

Given all of that, Senate Republican strategists welcomed Ensign's decision not to seek reelection.

"Next year's Senate race in Nevada will now come down to a clear choice between two competing visions for our country," said Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Republican Rep. Dean Heller, who had been preparing to challenge Ensign in the party's primary, will now almost certainly run. It remains to be seen whether any of the GOP candidates who ran for Senate in 2010 - including party nominee Sharron Angle - will join the race.

For Democrats, Rep. Shelley Berkley has been the most outspoken about her interest in campaigning, although it's not clear whether she would be the strongest candidate. Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller, state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and businessman Byron Georgiou are also mentioned as possible candidates.


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