NV-Sen: John Ensign Announces He’ll Resign in May

Via the National Journal:

Two-term Republican Sen. John Ensign of Nevada will resign on Friday, Republican sources tell National Journal, ending a once-promising career that had the former veterinarian and casino manager eyeing a possible presidential bid before an ugly sex scandal and subsequent ethics probe snuffed out his ambition and, eventually, his Senate tenure.

Ensign’s resignation will clear the way for GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval to appoint GOP Rep. Dean Heller, already an announced candidate for Ensign’s seat, to the Senate vacancy.

Ensign, 53, began notifying Nevada friends of his intentions late Thursday. The senator has kept his distance from official GOP circles in Washington for months, but word quickly spread to GOP figures inside the Beltway who tell NJ they are certain Ensign will resign.

“We have no reason to doubt that it’s true and believe it’s happening,” a senior GOP official told NJ.

I’m pretty surprised to see this happen – Ensign had many chances to resign over the years, and sooner would have been better for him than later. But with his announcement six weeks ago that he wouldn’t seek re-election, there just didn’t seem to be a reason for him to quit early anymore. So either he’s doing one last solid for the GOP (as the National Journal notes, this will give Heller an easy and instant move into the Senate), or he’s worried that the still-pending ethics investigation against him will somehow make him look worse than he already does, or both.

I’m not sure whether a year-and-a-half of incumbency will make a huge difference in next year’s race (Heller would have to stand for re-election in November 2012), but I’m guessing Shelley Berkeley, the almost-certain Democratic nominee, would rather face Rep. Heller rather than Sen. Heller. I’ll be very curious to see how she reacts if this comes to pass, and what her strategy looks like.

One final observation: Assuming Sandoval does the obvious thing here, this would also create a vacancy in Heller’s 2nd CD seat. That would prompt a special election, presumably under existing district lines, which could be a very entertaining affair. Candidates have already been lining up for the GOP primary to replace Heller, so I’d guess they’d all likely run in a special election, too – and that includes Sharron Angle. If Dems put up a strong candidate, we could potentially steal this seat. It’s going to be interesting.

UPDATE: Ensign in fact decided to announce today, via press release. He says his resignation will be effective May 3.

153 thoughts on “NV-Sen: John Ensign Announces He’ll Resign in May”

  1. Don’t get too excited. With party committees picking nominees, there is a near 0 chance that Angle is the nominee. It’ll be Krolicki or Amodei. Amodei could surprise since he was NV GOP chair until today  

      1. probably won’t mind that Heller takes an offered promotion, just like most people would take a promotion if offered to them. And certainly not in his Nov. 2012 election.

        Not Heller’s fault that the NV election laws appear to be a mess.

    1. The concern I had with a prospective Caroline appointment wasn’t that she would’ve been a poor Senator; rather it was that she would’ve been a poor candidate.

      She reminded me too much of her cousin for comfort.

  2. I can’t help but think that if Nevada had a Democratic governor, he or she wouldn’t go for the upper hand, but simply appoint a placeholder rather than appoint Shelley Berkley.

    I’m just thinking of Kaufman in Delaware. Goodwin in West Virginia. Burris in Illinois. Kirk in Massachusetts.

    I know I’m making a generalization, and there are probably 20 reasons for the appointments for each of those 4 people. I just can’t help but feel that it seems like Republicans are more likely to play hardball and not care.

  3. Okay. What’s that mean? It’s not completely clear whether there’s a free-for-all or whether, as when a candidate drops out of a race after grabbing the nomination, the candidate is selected by a party committee. A snap election is good for Sharron Angle; a party committee election, not as good. Pam DuPre, a state elections official who sent me the info, says the office is trying to figure out the current law as we speak.


    I’d think there would have to have been a special election for a state legislative seat or something to use as precedent, but Google hasn’t turned up anything yet….

  4. I am impressed by how many people jumped on here, and so quickly.  Wasn’t the law changed in West Virginia after Sen. Byrd died, so that an election had to be held for his open Senate seat.  And wasn’t the GOP in strongly in favor of this change?  Why don’t the Dems raise the same stink and force the law to be changed.  I realize that Nevada has a GOP governor, but, public pressure could change things, and it would certainly tarnish Heller if he came out against having a special election for this Senate seat.  Even if the law wasn’t changed, Heller would look illegitimate.

    1. That seems like the exact opposite of what he’s arguing there. He literally states in the last sentence of that article that the senate is a tossup.  

  5. If Heller is appointed, how much does this change the Dem calculus for the Senate race? I’ve read the arguments from Silver and others about it not boosting Heller much, given the history with senate vacancies. I’d also note that Heller already represents the vast (geographic) bulk of the state in the House, but won’t being incumbent senator give him a boost in stature that would strengthen him in Clark and Washoe? Not to mention the thing people have mentioned about Heller being less exposed to tough votes in the Senate. The DSCC reportedly preferred Masto/Miller over Berkley, I think one report claimed that even Reid shared the concern. Given that it makes the already-steep climb for Berkley more difficult, might it lead some recalculations?

    1. However, if this is a juggle election, the way I see it playing out is Kate Marshal winning with something in the Mid 40s against Sharon Angle and an establishment republican, followed by her re-election in November on the back of the Obama turnout machine. In any case, trying to handicap the house before redistricting is a pretty much completely academic exercise. Sure, you can make generalizations, like “Allan West loses,” Democrats pick up seats in Illinois” And “Russ Carnahan is screwed,” but the balance of the house rests in marginal seats, most of which have freshmen GOP incumbents. In these races, the sort of districts they get will be vital.

    2. The PVI is exaggerated by Obama’s record performance.

      The 2000-2004 PVI for NV-02 was R+8. However, as you’ll recall, Cook changed how it calculates PVIs (on account of SSP, actually), so really it would have been R+6. Redder, sure, but not a whole lot redder.

      PVI does a pretty good job of “evening out” broad success like Obama had by comparing district scores to national scores.

  6. Heller will blend in with the monolithic GOP caucus voting against cloture for the occasional Dem bill that actually gets traction. In the House he’d have to vote yes or no every week practically on some truly batshit stuff. Then again, he already voted for the Ryan budget and if Democrats message correctly that could be enough to hang around his neck. Overall I think the appointment is a slight plus for him, and I disagree with Nate that the race slightly favored Heller already. With Obama turnout and Berkley running, I felt Nevada was a better pickup opportunity than Massachusetts before this all went down.  

  7. Interesting how this has played out, especially with the uncertainty regarding the rules for the House special. I had assumed that if Rory Reid had won the gubernatorial last year, there was a good chance that Ensign would have resigned before January to avoid the risk of a Dem replacement for his seat following any other disclosures. On the other hand, if he had resigned in 09 or 10, then a competent replacement would have been set up well to survive a special in 2010, and would have to be considered a strong favorite for the regular election in 2012. By betting (ah, the Vegas jokes never cease) that he would survive his investigation, and ultimately resigning heading into an election cycle that should be much better for Dems nationally, this situation hardly seems to have worked out perfectly for Ensign, Heller or the NV GOP. I do think that 18 months of incumbency tips the scales a bit in Heller’s favor, but of the possible scenarios that could have been gamed out in July 2009, this is hardly the worst outcome for Dems in terms of winning this seat in 2012.

  8. Not that I’d expect that to happen, politics is far to partisan for that. I’d say the same thing for a Democratic seat, let the electoral process play out with attempting to game the system.

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