Ensign says he'll run for re-election in 2012

WASHINGTON -- Sen. John Ensign said Tuesday that he plans to run for re-election, a decision that sets him on an uphill path to Election Day 2012 and another six-year term representing Nevada.

Ensign will have to navigate through ongoing ethics investigations and a shortage of campaign funding in the undertaking. He could face a Republican primary challenge as well as a Democratic opponent in a year that President Barack Obama would also be on the ballot.

In May, Ensign wavered, saying he would not decide on re-election until early next year.

But the Nevada Republican told Politico in a report Tuesday evening that he has been planning to run again "for a long time." Ensign's spokeswoman Jennifer Cooper confirmed his intentions.

"Senator Ensign has been focused on earning back the trust of Nevadans and does plan to run for re-election at this time," Cooper said in an e-mail. He would be seeking a third Senate term.

Ensign told Politico that he was not worried about how his legal problems might affect his chances.

"All I can do is just do my job and present my case to Nevadans, and see what they think," he said.

Ensign has been under investigations by the Senate ethics committee and the Justice Department on allegations that he broke Senate rules and federal lobbying law in the aftermath of an extramarital relationship with a former aide, which he admitted in June 2009.

He has insisted he broke no law or Senate rule in his relationship with aide Cindy Hampton, or with her husband, Doug Hampton, a former administrative assistant in Ensign's Washington office. Ensign helped set up Doug Hampton as a lobbyist after the affair was discovered.

While Ensign's reputation has taken a beating, he also has increased his appearances before Nevada audiences this year, a practice he said this summer was giving him encouragement about a possible re-election bid.

He faces a further challenge of replenishing campaign bank accounts that have been diminished by more than a half million dollars in legal bills. His most recent federal report showed about $280,000 in reserve.

A survey released last week by North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling showed Ensign carries a 64 percent job approval rating among likely Nevada Republican primary voters, and 71 percent approval among conservatives.

Pollster Tom Jensen said the polling indicated that Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who has been mentioned as a possible primary challenger, could beat Ensign, "but it wouldn't be a slam dunk."

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.