Republican John Ensign Latest Senator to Announce Retirement

BY Quinn Bowman  March 7, 2011 at 4:03 PM EST

Senator John Ensign
Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev. Getty Images file photo.

Nevada Republican John Ensign announced Monday he will not seek reelection in 2012, ending a Senate career marred by Ensign’s admission of an extramarital affair with a former campaign aide Cynthia Hampton.

“I just came to the conclusion that I couldn’t put my family through this,” Ensign said at the news conference.

Ensign is the eighth senator, and third Republican, to announce retirement since the start of the new Congress. He would have likely faced a primary challenge for his seat, and is also the subject of a Senate Ethics Committee investigation over possible violations of ethics rules and federal law after Ensign’s parents gave $96,000 to Hampton and her husband Douglas Hampton, who also used to work in Ensign’s Senate office.

Less than two years ago, Ensign traveled to Iowa for some early testing of the 2012 presidential waters, but soon after became mired in scandal. He admitted to the affair in June 2009.

A special prosecutor was appointed in February to investigate the Ensign money transfer.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee quickly released a statement saying they expected to be competitive in the race for the open seat.

“Nevada is now an open seat, and ripe for a Democratic pickup. It remains high on our target list. Whoever Republicans field as their candidate will have a tough time holding onto this seat in a blue-trending state with President Obama at the top of the ticket,” Executive Director Guy Cecil said in the statement.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, thanked Ensign for his public service.

“Next year’s Senate race in Nevada will now come down to a clear choice between two competing visions for our country – between a Republican candidate who believes in smaller government, fiscal responsibility and creating good, private sector jobs, and a Democrat candidate who believes in keeping our country on the same reckless fiscal path of more government and higher taxes,” Cornyn said in a statement.

Two House members are considering a run for the seat: Democrat Shelley Berkley and Republican Dean Heller. The open seat Senate race will likely be one of the most competitive in the nation next year, as Nevada will also be a major battleground state in the presidential election.

Ensign was first elected to Congress as a member of the House of Representatives in 1994. He was elected to the Senate in 2000 and reelected in 2006.