Ensign says he expects 2012 GOP challenge

RENO (AP) - Once "arrogant" but now humbled, Sen. John Ensign said Thursday he expects a tough Republican primary challenge next as he tries to rebuild his trust with Nevada voters after admitting an affair with a staffer and wife of his former best friend.

"Humility is something that is very good for a person," Ensign said. "Scripture actually says that if you don't humble yourself, God will humble you."

"In this case, I had become very arrogant and this humility I have experienced has been a very, very positive thing for me, I think, in all aspects of my life," he said during KRNV-TV's "Nevada Newsmakers."

"I have not allowed my personal problems to affect what I am doing for the state of Nevada," he added.

U.S. Rep. Dean Heller is among those considering running against Ensign in the 2012 GOP primary as the second-term senator tries to put behind him the affair with staffer Cynthia Hampton, wife of Ensign's co-chief of staff, Doug Hampton.

"I expect a primary, let's put it that way," Ensign said Thursday.

"Who runs? I have no control. I expect a very tough race in the primary and I expect a very tough race in the general. I've had tough races in the past. I've been counted out in elections before," he said.

Ensign faces an inquiry from the Senate Ethics Committee but the Department of Justice and the Federal Election Committee dropped their Ensign investigations late last year.

The Justice Department had investigated Ensign's efforts to keep secret the affair with Mrs. Hampton. The Federal Election Commission investigated a complaint against Ensign over a $96,000 payment Ensign's parents made to the Hamptons. He has denied it was intended as hush money.

"Listen, my parents decided to give a gift," the senator said Thursday. "They are very generous people. That has been addressed."

Ensign declined further comment on the gift, citing an ongoing investigation by the Ethics Committee. But he said he was "very pleased" with the outcome of the FEC and Justice probes.

"I knew I did not break any laws and the Justice Department and the FEC have both dropped their cases and basically cleared me of any wrongdoing. We hope that the ethics committee now will follow suit very shortly," he said.

Ensign did not directly answer the question when asked if he would resign rather than face a public hearing by the Senate Ethics Committee. Some hearings are public and some are not.

"I talked a lot with my family about this, as you can imagine, and my family is 100 percent supportive of my staying in office," Ensign said. "The bottom line is that we want to clear my name. I admitted I made the biggest mistake of my life. I regret that more than I can possibly tell anybody. The pain that it caused my family ... the pain it caused anybody."


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