Ensign sets $1 million goal for early fundraising

WASHINGTON -- Embattled Sen. John Ensign, starting largely from scratch to build a campaign for re-election, set a goal to raise at least $1 million by July as an early measure of his viability.

Ensign, R-Nev., indicated his ability to compete financially for a 2012 race would become clearer by mid-year. A number of potential challengers are considering running against the two-term incumbent who politically has been crippled since June 2009 when he acknowledged he had carried on an extramarital affair.

"I'd love to raise at least a million dollars between now and the end of June. I think that would be a healthy number," Ensign said in an interview with Dave Becker, host of Nevada Public Radio's "State of Nevada" program.

Ensign's fundraising came to a halt following his disclosure of the affair and resulting investigations into whether he broke federal laws or Senate rules in trying to keep it under wraps.

Ensign has denied any legal or official wrongdoing. Investigations by the Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission have been dropped without charges. A probe by the Senate ethics committee is ongoing.

As some of his legal problems have dissipated, Ensign has stepped up his media interviews and public appearances in the early stages of his re-election bid.

Ensign told Becker he began reaching out to fundraising allies "the last couple of weeks," and is in the process of scheduling events. Other sources have said Ensign has hired a campaign scheduler but has not yet hired a manager or other consultants.

As for his ability to raise money, Ensign said, "Just make a judgement based on the end of June... and I will let you guys make the decision how well I fundraise. I think we will be very, very successful."

As of the end of September, Ensign had only $280,000 cash available in his campaign account for a 2012 race that experts believe could cost $10 million or more. A new report updating Ensign's campaign finances is due at the end of January.

By comparison, Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, who is considering a run for Senate, has at least $1.16 million on hand, according to federal records.

Republican Rep. Dean Heller, who some party leaders are encouraging to run against Ensign in a GOP primary, had $855,412 available.