Senate Seat Series – John Ensign (part II)

Update: the New York Times revealed that Senator Ensign is scheduled to discuss under oath on May fourth the issue of paying the husband and former Senate staffer of the woman he had an affair with $96,000. Ensign claims it was a gift while his former staffer maintains that it was hush money at best and severance at worst which would be illegal.

Senator John Ensign announced yesterday that he was resigning his Senate seat effective May 3rd. He had previously announced that he would not seek reelection following a sex scandal involving a campaign staff member and the wife of his Senate staff. That revelation set off a cascading series of events involving payoffs, cover-ups, and ethics investigations.

We previously covered the Nevada Senate race prospects in an earlier SSS article just after Senator Ensign announced he would not seek reelection. Given the circumstances, it seemed appropriate to revisit that topic.

Ensign previously stated that he would not resign citing that would be an indicator of guilt to the allegations of impropriety being investigated by the DOJ at the time. Ensign has repeatedly said that he had “not violated any rule, law, or standard of conduct”. Now that he has resigned, does that constitute an admission of guilt? Earlier this week the Senate Ethics Committee voted to renew the investigations into Ensign’s activities which would likely involve some rather public hearings. The only possible way to avoid that would be a resignation and Ensign responded that he had no desire to drag his family through all that. It is also possible that the ethics committee could have possibly uncovered damning evidence of impropriety which would have led to an expulsion and indictment.

There may have been other motives as well. Nevada is slowly turning blue and the best  chance of Republicans holding on to this seat may well be by appointing someone to replace Ensign before the 2012 election. As mentioned in the previous article, Democrat Shelley Berkley has a decent shot at winning the seat although Nate considers Heller to be the slight favourite.

Rep. Dean Heller

Now Nevada’s Republican Governor Brian Sandoval gets to appoint Ensign’s replacement which means the political equivalent of musical chairs is about to occur. Sandoval is expected to appoint Representative Dean Heller of Nevada’s 2nd District (Carson City, Reno, and northern Nevada). Heller had already announced plans to run for the seat so this will essentially make him the incumbent for 2012 (Nate points out that historically, this doesn’t necessarily give Heller an advantage). That means a special election will be held for his vacancy. Which means we have not heard the last of Sharron Angle.

None of this even takes the redistricting of Nevada and the additional district that will be created in 2012 into consideration. Currently District two leans Republican. Districts one and three (Las Vegas, Henderson) are Democratic and District four (everything between Vegas and District two) is a toss-up.

So the Nevada political landscape just got a little more complicated. Expect to see a part three to this feature (without Ensign’s name, of course).

About Mr. Universe

Mr. Universe is a musician/songwriter and an ex-patriot of the south. He currently lives and teaches at a University in the Pacific Northwest. He is a long distance hiker who has hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. He is also an author and woodworker. An outspoken political voice, he takes a decidedly liberal stance in politics.
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13 Responses to Senate Seat Series – John Ensign (part II)

  1. WA7th says:

    Nate’s article yesterday noted that Nevada officials aren’t sure yet who will be allowed to run in Nevada’s special election for the open house seat, ie. whether it will be a free-for-all or whether major parties will nominate a candidate. Has anyone seen or heard any clarification on that? My interpretation is that if a candidate declares as an independent, it’s easy to make the ballot, so it becomes a free-for-all regardless of what the major parties are required to do. I would expect every wacko D or R not nominated to run as an Indi.

    Anyway, Ensign’s resignation appears to me an obvious advantage to the R’s. They will have an appointee already holding the seat and running for re-election to keep it.

  2. WA7th, I’m sure that was a major factor in the early retirement.

  3. shiloh says:

    Ensign resigned ’cause he was told there was a good chance he would be expelled. Much like Goldwater/Baker et al told Nixon he was toast in 1974, ergo he resigned in disgrace!

  4. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    Since 1986, there have been 16 appointed Senators. Of the 12 who ran for election, 6 won.

    So the appointed Senator only has a 50/50 chance for election in their own right.

  5. Mr. Universe says:


    Nate noted that little stat in his article, too.

  6. Of course, 12 data points isn’t that statistically significant…

  7. Max aka Birdpilot says:


    Of course, 12 data points isn’t that statistically significant…

    It is if you are one of the six who lost!!!!! 🙂

  8. WA7th says:

    Pretending that 12 data points was significant…

    Of the 6 winners and 6 losers, did the governor who originally appointed them belong to the same party that controlled that state’s legislature or did the governor come from a minority party? Given 50/50 odds and a semi-rational governor when all else is equal, it seems intuitively obvious to me that in this case all else is not equal. The appointed Senator has better than 50/50 odds this time because R’s have most recently controlled that district, that governorship, and that state’s lege as a whole. I would guess that not all 12 had such favorable conditions.

  9. rgbact says:

    Interesting stat. Great now I have to look into it more. 1 was a wife, so that maybe is an outlier. A few were in partisan states that it probably didn’t matter. Most useful is looking at swing state appointments–and whether the appointment gave an extra edge. I gotta believe being appointed helped Bennet in 2010 a bit.

  10. Yeah, see, that’s the problem. There are too many variables and too few data points to draw anything meaningful from them.

  11. rgbact says:


    You’re likely right. Bennet is the only comparable out of the 12 offhand. There also was one in NC back in the 80’s. David Paterson could’ve appointed a ham sandwich (or Caroline Kennedy) in NY and it wouldn’t matter–so not so instructive that she won.

  12. Pingback: Governor names Rep. Heller to fill out Ensign’s term « THE STR

  13. Pingback: Senate Seat Series – Jim Webb (D-VA) | 538 Refugees

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