LAS VEGAS – Republican Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, damaged politically and facing a Senate ethics investigation over an extramarital affair, said Monday he won’t seek re-election next year.
His decision to retire could set off a free-for-all to fill the seat coveted by Democrats and become a key to what will be a significantly reconstituted U.S. Senate, where eight members have now said they won’t run again.
More than a dozen family members and supporters flanked Ensign during his brief announcement. His wife, Darlene Ensign, stood next to him, reassuringly patting his back at moments.
Ensign, 52, said he had fully intended to run until last week.
“I just came to the conclusion that I just couldn’t put my family through it,” he said.
Elected to the House in 1994, the former veterinarian preached family values, Christian fellowship and fiscal responsibility during his years in office.
Ensign acknowledged in June 2009 that he had an extramarital affair with Cynthia Hampton, a former member of his campaign staff, and that he had helped her husband, Doug Hampton, a member of his congressional staff, obtain lobbying work with a Nevada company.
Ensign also acknowledged in recent months that he was prepared for a tough election campaign, in which he was expected to face Rep. Dean Heller or Nevada Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki in the GOP primary.
He also could have faced an equally brutal general election fight. A roster of popular Democrats including Rep. Shelley Berkley, of Las Vegas, Secretary of State Ross Miller and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto were named by party leaders as prospective rivals.