Ensign Heads to Iowa to Press for a GOP Renewal

Posted May 22, 2009 at 5:46pm

Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) is heading to Iowa on June 1 to deliver a keynote political address, tour a biotechnology firm and participate in a meet-and-greet at a local ice cream parlor.

Feel free to draw your own conclusions.

“Something like [running for president], first of all, is unrealistic for, I think, almost anybody to think about. It really is,— Ensign said in an interview Thursday, when asked if he was interested in making a bid for the White House in 2012. “The daunting responsibility of that job is just overwhelming.

“Really what I’m focused on right now — not only being a Senator and representing my state, but also trying to help us as a party in any way that I can.—

Ensign, a conservative and chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, said he made a tactical decision earlier this year to cultivate a national presence to help the GOP bounce back from the political doldrums. Ensign, now in his second Senate term, served as the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee over the 2008 cycle.

Ensign is hoping to build on the connections he developed as NRSC chairman. His goal: travel the country and deliver the message that the GOP has the right solutions for the nation’s ills.

That will be the focus of Ensign’s Monday speech in Sioux City, which is being given in concert with the American Future Fund’s Conservative Lecture Series. Ensign will begin his day near Des Moines, head to a tour of Trans Ova Genetics, and then go on to visit the Wells’ Dairy Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor to meet local residents — otherwise known as potential first-in-the-nation Iowa caucus-goers.

Ensign, 51, said his address will center on the GOP principles of limited government, an adherence to the Constitution, and personal and fiscal responsibility. He will argue that those Republican principles can help guide practical solutions to health care, energy and education reforms, as well as what kind of individual President Barack Obama should look for in a Supreme Court justice.

“We need people who can articulate what I believe is a message that is the heart of the Republican Party — who can articulate that message in a way that connects with people and connects with voters,— Ensign said. “We don’t have the White House anymore, and so we need more spokespeople. … We need more people being open to our message, and that’s a big part of the reason I’m going.—

Ensign stressed that he sees himself as just one of many capable GOP messengers and said he welcomes both old faces and newer bright lights in the campaign to rebuild the party brand.

[IMGCAP(1)]To that end, Ensign is investing considerable time and political capital to resurrect the Nevada Republican Party, which has been in severe decline in recent years.

No longer a GOP-leaning backwater with a few glitzy casinos, the Silver State grew enormously over the past decade, emerging as a swing state and an economic engine of the West. During the 2008 campaign, Nevada became a key presidential battleground that saw Obama finish on top, not to mention now-freshman Rep. Dina Titus (D) in the Las Vegas-area 3rd district.

Ensign, in concert with the newly formed Republican Renewal Project, is helping to raise money for voter registration and outreach, including a focus on new voters, independents and racial minorities. He is regularly traveling the state and appearing in Hispanic media, with the goal of recruiting viable candidates who can help the GOP broaden its appeal.

The Republican Renewal Project is launching its effort with a paid direct-mail piece to unregistered Nevadans this summer. The hiring of a permanent, paid staff to engage in neighborhood canvassing and other voter-registration activities are a part of the organization’s plans.

The project is a state political action committee being run by Ensign’s Nevada-based consulting team, and the Senator described the work he’s doing on this front as a top priority. Ensign is not up for re-election until 2012. His home-state colleague, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D), is up next year.

“I’m trying to rebuild my home state party. … I’m putting a huge amount of effort into it,— Ensign said. “We need to change the face of our party; we need to recruit. If we’re going to be a big tent party, that also means that we have to have a lot of different faces than we have in the party.—

Ensign was matter-of-fact about the hard work Republicans have to do to counter the Democrats on a national level. But he is optimistic.

The Nevadan praised the work of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the rest of his leadership colleagues, saying he was pleased with how the GOP Conference is functioning with just 40 seats. He supports efforts to work with the Democratic majority and the Obama administration on major issues such as health care, but he stopped well short of promoting bipartisanship over principle.

“We’re at our height when we stick to our principles. Democrats are at their height when they abandon their principles,— Ensign said. “Think about it: Bill Clinton ran on not-traditional Democrat values; Jimmy Carter did the same thing. And so did Barack Obama. They did not run on liberal values.

“When Republicans hold to conservative values … we do well. When we abandon that, like on spending and other things, we get in trouble.—