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Sen. Ensign drops his GOP leadership post after admitting affair

June 17, 2009 | 10:51 am

For those who demand accountability in public officials, take heart. There is one area, even in these permissive times, that always leads to political trouble and it is spelled s-e-x.

Republican Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, mentioned as a possible contender for the GOP’s big prize in four years, found that out the hard way. He announced this morning he was stepping down from his party leadership post, a day after admitting that he had an extramarital affair.

It is hard to imagine that sex is as powerful an issue in 2009 as some people thought it was in the past. (Those who think sex in government began with Bill Clinton really should go take a good American history course in summer school -- if you can find one that hasn’t been closed because of funding cuts.)

Still, in the world of Republicans, pro-family and generally religious (hence, pro-fidelity), an extramarital affair can be a problem. Especially when it comes to campaigns and raising money from the conservative base.

Ensign was head of the Republican Policy Committee, the fourth-ranking spot in the Senate leadership pantheon. Combining rugged good looks, a distinguished head of gray hair and a focused, conservative outlook, Ensign was a possible contender for the GOP presidential nod in four years.

On Tuesday, he said he had a “consensual affair” from December 2007 to August 2008. There has been no indication of why the senator decided to announce his infidelity when he did, prompting media speculation about a motive.

Ensign can take heart, however, America loves someone who can claim to be the comeback kid. There are worse political platforms.

--Michael Muskal

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