Reid, Ensign make very different marks in Washington in 2009 |

Reid, Ensign make very different marks in Washington in 2009

The careers of Nevada’s two U.S. senators were on the proverbial roller coaster in 2009.

Harry Reid has risen farther than any other Nevada senator but now faces slumping ratings at home. His counterpart John Ensign also was on the fast track to the top until a sex scandal trashed his Mr. Clean reputation.

The ascendance of Harry Reid to majority leader of the U.S. Senate has given Nevada its most powerful member of Congress in history. He won the position after the 2006 elections that put the Democrats in charge of the Senate.

In that role, he has undeniably brought home millions of dollars – especially stimulus money – to Nevada. Without Reid’s influence, Nevada’s $2.1 billion in stimulus grants would probably have been several hundred million less.

At the same time, his prominent role in pushing President Barack Obama’s political agenda, especially health care reform, has helped build opposition and push his popularity down to dangerous levels for an incumbent seeking re-election next year.

The rise and potential fall of Reid is not nearly as dramatic, however, as that of Nevada’s junior senator, John Ensign. From the start of the decade, he managed to grow from an unknown freshman to one of the GOP’s top Senate leaders. In the months after Obama took office, Ensign was increasingly tabbed as a party spokesman on TV news shows and in political publications.

Heading into summer, his star still rising, he was even being mentioned as potential presidential timber in 2012.

That came to a halt when he confessed at a hastily called press conference in June that he had had an affair with a staffer whose husband – described as one of his best friends – also was on his staff.

Ensign, a moral hard-liner who publicly called for the resignation of other politicians ensnared in sexual scandals including President Bill Clinton, was suddenly labeled a hypocrite, adulterer and damaged goods.

Compounding the problem, now Ensign is being investigated by the Senate Ethics Committee after he fired Doug and Cindy Hampton then reportedly helped Hampton start a lobbying business – a violation of the law mandating a one year cooling off period for senior staffers – as well as for the $96,000 his parents paid the couple in what looks like hush money.

Both stories will play out over the next year as Reid tries to convince Nevadans of his value to the state and Ensign tries to rebuild his Mr. Clean reputation.