RENO - Painting a bleak outlook for Nevada Republicans in general, ex-GOP Rep. Barbara Vucanovich said Tuesday she's "extremely disappointed" that Sen. John Ensign had an affair and thinks it "is going to be tough" for him to win re-election in 2012.
She also said a host of GOP challengers face an "uphill" battle in their bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Harry Reid next fall. That's primarily because his huge campaign warchest keeps growing thanks in part to help from GOP business leaders who argue Nevada needs his clout in Congress, she said.
"I think it is going to be very difficult for Republicans," Vucanovich said in describing the overall outlook for her party in the coming elections during an appearance Tuesday on KRNV-TV's "Nevada Newsmakers."
The former seven-term congresswoman said she's especially disappointed in Ensign's scandal because she personally helped recruit him as a candidate in Las Vegas in the early 1990s when he first ran for the U.S. House.
"I met with his family. I thought he would be a wonderful candidate," said Vucanovich, who served from 1983-97.
"I'm extremely disappointed in him and frankly very surprised because I think that isn't the character that everybody thought he was. I'm very, very disappointed," she said.
Ensign's acknowledgment of the affair with Cindy Hampton, the wife of a longtime friend, has led to a huge fall from grace for a man that many viewed as a rising star within the GOP. He was forced to step down from his position and is now fighting to complete a second term in office that continues through 2012.
Vucanovich said she thinks Ensign will survive his current term "but re-election is going to be tough."
"Watching him, it has been very hard," she said. "He certainly had to back away from what he was doing in the leadership position he had. I haven't seen a great demonstration of him doing very much."
Republicans who have announced or are considering running for Reid's seat include former GOP state chairwoman Sue Lowden, state Sen. Mark Amodei, former state Assemblywoman Sharron Angle and Danny Tarkanian, son of former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian.
Reid already is half way to his goal of raising $25 million for the race.
"I think it is going to be a very difficult climb for them ... an uphill climb," Vucanovich said.
"It is the money and many other things," she said. "He has been very powerful in his position and has used it for Nevada."
"There are some prominent Republicans who are supporting him. They say it is business, that he is strong enough to help them and that is what they are going to do."
Vucanovich offered a vote of confidence for embattled Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons, who is going through a messy divorce and already faces GOP primary challengers including former U.S. District Judge Brian Sandoval and former North Las Vegas Mayor Mike Montandon. Rory Reid, Reid's son, is the Democratic front-runner.
Vucanovich served with Gibbons in Congress and said she has known him since she was a friend of his mother's.
"Nobody is perfect but I'm certainly not going to help anybody who is running against him," Vucanovich said, adding that she supported his face off with Democrats in the Legislature over taxes. "I think he stood up for what he believes. He took some beatings but I think he did what was right."
Vucanovich added that Sandoval is "a wonderful candidate, a very fine man."
"He called me the other day. I wished him well but I told him where I was," he said."
Vucanovich also said she'd like to see former vice presidential Sarah Palin show up on a GOP presidential ticket again sometime, perhaps even at the top.
"Is she a star? I don't know. I respect her and I think she is going to go a long way in the party," she said. "I'd like to see her (run again) because I think she is a very normal woman. ... I think she is down to earth."