RENO - John Ensign, who said he wanted Dick Bryan's U.S. Senate seat the day after Bryan announced he would retire, formally kicked off his campaign Monday, promising to fight for Nevadans even if it means opposing the Republican Party.
He made the announcement at Reno's Echo Loder Elementary School, where he attended grades 1-3, before a crowd that ranged from 3rd-graders to seniors and veterans. In his introduction, Gov. Kenny Guinn told the students in the multi-purpose room Ensign is proof that every one of them could rise to run for the U.S. Senate one day as well.
Ensign, the Republican who served two terms in the House, lost his first U.S. Senate bid to incumbent Democrat Harry Reid in 1998 by fewer than 500 votes.
"Harry and I have established a very good relationship, knowing that, if I am elected, we're going to have to work together," he said.
Ensign said his key issues are education, health care - especially for veterans and seniors - and keeping nuclear waste out of Nevada.
With education, he said, getting the federal government to back off is the key. He said teachers and administrators alike tell him they want "less strings attached to the money."
But in Nevada's case, he said the state isn't getting its fair share because only 39 cents of every education dollar is returned to the state by federal agencies.
He said he worked before to make health care more affordable and protect patient rights and will finish that job if elected, reducing costs by eliminating fraud and abuse while increasing tax incentives to business and families.
He said women must have access to their obstetrician-gynecologist and children access to pediatricians.
"And our senior citizens must not have to choose between food and pharmaceuticals," he said.
And Ensign promised to protect Social Security and Medicare as well as be an advocate for veterans.
He took a tough stand on Yucca Mountain saying the issue transcends region, party and industry.
"Many in Congress, and sadly to say in my own Republican Party, seem blind to the facts and bent on passing the nuclear waste bill," he said.
He said Bryan, Reid and Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., along with former Gov. Bob Miller and now Gov. Kenny Guinn, have fought hard against the dump. He said if elected, he will pick up the fight where he left off a year ago and join them in that battle.
"I promise to spend every day fighting to keep nuclear waste from coming to Nevada," he said. "And if that fight pits me against my own party again, then so be it. This is a fight for our lives."
The only challenge to Ensign so far is from Las Vegas lawyer Ed Bernstein, a Democrat. Bernstein has held off his official announcement so far but has made it clear he intends to run.