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A primer on the saga of Sen. John Ensign's extramarital affair

August 4, 2009 |  5:21 pm

The political trajectory of Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) neatly splits into two eras.

BC: Before Cynthia.

AD: After Doug.

In the BC era, Ensign mostly managed to avoid the media glare, even during questionable episodes such as his still-unexplained, rumor-generating, two-week absence in 2002. Then the married social conservative – a member of the Promise Keepers ministry who had called on President Clinton to resign – had an affair with aide Cynthia Hampton, who was married to Ensign’s best friend and co-chief of staff, Doug Hampton.John Ensign

It was not Cynthia who unveiled the affair.

In the AD era, Ensign’s attempts to dodge reporters and wave off questions haven’t worked as well. Jon Ralston, a Las Vegas political commentator who was the first to interview Doug Hampton, is tracking questions Ensign “has an obligation to answer.”

Ralston also posted e-mails this week between the Hamptons and former top officials at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and between Doug Hampton and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. (Doug Hampton has suggested that Santorum might have tipped off Ensign that Doug Hampton had tipped off Fox News about the affair. Yes, this is as convoluted as a high school romance.)

The most interesting new development, however, comes out of Kansas. Legislators and lottery officials told the Wichita Eagle they’re concerned about how Ensign’s father helped pay the Hamptons $96,000 after they left Ensign’s employ.

Mike Ensign is a partner in a proposed casino project in Sumner County. “The question is, are these the kind of people we want to do business with?” state Rep. Vince Wetta, a Democrat, told the Eagle. This underscores a new quandary for Ensign. Considering the relentless press coverage that has marked the AD era, even if the senator keeps dodging reporters, can he really sidestep Dad?

-- Ashley Powers

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