Democratic political operatives on Monday sought to exploit Sen. John Ensigns (R-Nev.) ethics woes as fresh questions surfaced over whether the Justice Department would launch a probe into allegations that he helped the husband of his former mistress secure a lucrative lobbying job.
According to the New York Times, Ensign helped his ex-mistress husband, Doug Hampton, land a lobbying job, steered clients his way and then provided those clients with legislative favors. Hampton had been a top aide to Ensign in his personal office, and according to the Times, he may have violated Senate ethics rules and federal law when he took the lobbying job.
On Monday, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee tried to use the scandal to attack Sue Lowden, the top GOP challenger to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in next years election, over her ties to Ensign. And a coalition of health care reform advocates incorporated the scandal into a television ad attacking Ensigns position on health care.
Health Care for Americans Now, a coalition of liberal reform organizations, announced a $110,000 ad buy in Reno and Las Vegas to criticize Ensigns position on health care. Ensign serves on the Finance Committee, which is marking up the Senates health care bill, and has been a reliable vote against the reforms liberals are seeking.
However, while the 30-second ad largely focuses on Ensigns positions on health care, it also explicitly invokes the scandal surrounding his affair with Cindy Hampton. Lately, theres been a lot of controversy about John Ensign, an announcer says at the beginning of the ad before criticizing the Nevada Republican for opposing liberal health care proposals.
DSCC Executive Director Eric Schultz called Lowdens repeated refusals to distance herself from Ensign disturbing in an e-mail to Democratic supporters on Monday.
The most disturbing aspect of Sue Lowdens reaffirmation of Ensign is that she did so fully aware of his potentially criminal conduct. Sue Lowdens support of John Ensign may have fundraising value to her, but it is a reflection of her own character and fitness for office. She has shown more fidelity to him, than he has shown to his own wife.
Lowden has said she hopes Ensign, who is already the subject of a preliminary Senate Ethics Committee investigation, would help campaign for Republicans running in next years election in Nevada.
On Friday, the Elko Daily Free Press reported that Lowden refused to back away from her support of Ensign.
Republicans, however, were quick to fire back, calling Democratic attempts to link Lowden to Ensign a desperation move.
Its ironic that the same day Vice President [Joseph] Biden is campaigning in Connecticut and standing by the ethically challenged [Sen.] Chris Dodd [D-Conn.], the Democrats would want to make ethics an issue in Senate races, National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh said. But when you consider that Reid and Dodd have the lowest approval numbers of any incumbent in either party facing re-election next year, it seems desperation is setting in early. The unfortunate reality for the Democrats is that next years election will be a referendum on Harry Reid, not anyone else.
Nevertheless, Ensigns support among his Senate colleagues appeared to be waning: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), while not criticizing him, also refused to give Ensign a vote of confidence when asked about the scandal on Friday. Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said on CNNs State of the Union on Sunday that he would wait and see what happens with the Ethics Committees inquiry.
Rep. Bill Cassidy has his blood drawn by Alesha Barbour during a free hepatitis screening in the Rayburn House Office Building hosted by the Congressional Viral Hepatitis Caucus to recognize "National Viral Hepatitis Testing Day."
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