Nevada Sen. John Ensign heads for the exit


The total number of US Senators declining to stand for re-election has reached eight with the announcement by John Ensign (R-NV) that he will step down at the end of his terms. Ensign’s departure has implications for the key Senate Commerce Committee and its Communications Subcommittee, of which he is ranking member.

Ensign has had a serious scandal brewing, and although he was able to escape possible criminal charges, he was seriously damaged and pulling weak poll numbers in his home state looking ahead to 2012. He was facing serious primary challenges from within his own party.

Commerce Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) has already announced her retirement, so a shake-up of Republican leadership in the committee is a given once the 2012 elections are over.

Both parties welcomed the Ensign announcement. In a statement, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said, “Nevada is now an open seat, and ripe for a Democratic pickup.” On the Repubican side, National Republican Senatorial Committee chair John Cornyn (R-TX) said, “Next year’s Senate race in Nevada will now come down to a clear choice between two competing visions for our country.”

Ensign joins the seven members on what has been a rapidly growing list:

* Akaka, Daniel K. (D-HI)

* Bingaman, Jeff (D-NM)

* Conrad, Kent (D-ND)

* Ensign, John (R-NV)

* Hutchison, Kay Bailey (R-TX)

* Kyl, Jon (R-AZ)

* Lieberman, Joseph I. (ID-CT)

* Webb, Jim (D-VA)

RBR-TVBR observation: There could be a real shake-up on the Republican side of Communications. Just behind Ensign on the minority list is Olympia Snowe (R-ME), whose moderate stance plays well in a general election but may be problematic in a primary in today’s GOP.

According to a TPM report, Snowe is not seen as a true Republican by a significant percentage of her own party – many think she should label herself as an independent or a Democrat. And she is stands a good chance of facing a primary challenge. However, at this point, it isn’t clear if the challenge will have legs. Stay tuned.