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In his speech, Ensign, too, thanked Reid. Among his confessions was the revelation that he and Reid, though on opposite sides of the political spectrum, had developed a warm personal friendship. That’s one reason they refused to campaign against one another in what have been close elections.
Had Ensign stayed in office, he would almost certainly have faced a primary challenge from Republican Rep. Dean Heller in 2012. Heller last week was appointed by Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) to succeed Ensign.
Some who listened to the address expressed sorrow at watching Ensign’s public downfall.
“This is the correct conclusion to a sad situation,” one Senate Republican aide said. “His farewell speech was gracious and appropriate.”
Others, though, weren’t so charitable.
“Good riddance,” another Senate Republican aide said.
Ensign was once seen as a rising star in GOP circles. He served as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee during the 2008 cycle and after that was the chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, the No. 4 position among the chamber’s GOP Members.
He was mentioned as a possible 2012 presidential candidate and even made a trip to Iowa in 2009. But his prospects were dashed when, later that year, his top aide, Doug Hampton, revealed that Ensign had an affair with his wife. But the revelation that Ensign’s parents had paid the couple $96,000 was the nail in the Senator’s political coffin, especially since Hampton was about to go public.
“It’s a very sad end to a career that just a few political moments ago seemed to be heading toward something big,” a senior GOP aide said.
And as Ensign prepared to join the roster of scandal-tarnished former Senators, the Nevada Republican also associated himself with two members of that club. He confessed that he regretted calling for the resignations of ex-Sen. Larry Craig (Idaho) and the late Sen. Ted Stevens (Alaska). He singled out those Republicans after Craig’s arrest in an airport men’s restroom sex sting and when Stevens was facing federal charges of corruption.
Stevens was found not guilty, and he died in a plane crash last year.
Ensign said that after his own scandal broke, he asked both men for forgiveness. Craig, in fact, was one of the first to call him after the news broke, he said.
“Each of these men were gracious enough to forgive me, even though publicly, I did not show them the same grace.”
Throughout the speech, the Senate floor remained empty, with only a handful of aides perched on the staff bench. No Senator came to the floor, as is custom for a Senator’s farewell address.
Ensign closed by addressing his absent colleagues.
“I bid you farewell,” he said. “Know that you will be in my prayers. I yield the floor and note the absence of a quorum.”
With that, he strode into the empty Cloakroom in the rear of the chamber.
Correction: May 2, 2011
The article mischaracterized Cynthia Hampton's role in the affair.