The news blindsided official Washington: Senator John Ensign, a well-known social conservative and family-values advocate, admitted on June 16 to an eight-month extramarital affair with a married campaign aide. The Nevada Republican's sober confession, read before a pack of reporters in Las Vegas, doubtlessly dashed the hopes of many in the party who considered Ensign an emerging national leader. The 51-year-old even fanned the flames of presidential speculation earlier this month with a trip to the key presidential-primary state of Iowa. Beyond embarrassing the second-term Senator, the revelation opened him to charges of hypocrisy: he had previously called on both President Bill Clinton and former Idaho Senator Larry Craig to resign after their own sex scandals.
Born March 25, 1958, in Roseville, Calif. Grew up in Nevada. With no help from her ex-husband, Ensign's mother once supported him and two siblings while working at a Reno, Nev., casino. His family moved to Las Vegas when Ensign was 16.
Graduated from Oregon State University in 1981 and Colorado State University's veterinary school, where he became a born-again Christian in 1985.
Owned Las Vegas' first 24-hour veterinary clinic and managed hotels before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994. His political career was boosted by his well-connected stepfather, Michael Ensign, who ran the powerful Mandalay Resort Group.
Nearly ousted Senator Harry Reid, the current Senate majority leader, in a 1998 challenge. Reid defeated Ensign by fewer than 500 votes in a bitter campaign that cost both sides more than $8 million. Won a Senate seat easily on his second attempt in 2000, and fought off a long-shot bid by former President Jimmy Carter's son Jack in 2006.
Married with three children. Ensign and his wife are both members of the Promise Keepers Evangelical ministry.
Resigned his leadership post as fourth-ranking Senate Republican on June 17, the day after admitting his affair.
Aides said the affair took place from December 2007 to August 2008 with former aide Cynthia Hampton. She is married to an aide in Ensign's office, Doug Hampton.
"Last year I had an affair. I violated the vows of my marriage. It is the worst thing I have ever done in my life. If there was ever anything in my life that I could take back, this would be it."
Reading a prepared statement (June 16, 2009)
"I was raised by a single mom. Single moms can do a great job. But the ideal for children ... is to be in a home with a man and a woman. And the government should strive for the ideal."
Explaining his opposition to same-sex marriage (CNN's "State of the Union," April 19, 2009)
"[Senator Craig's conduct was] embarrassing not only to himself and his family but to the U.S. Senate."
Calling on Craig to resign following his arrest for allegedly soliciting sex in an airport bathroom (ABC's "This Week" via AP, Sept. 2, 2007)
"I think we are dealing with a very serious problem here. With what we know and what we already knew, to me, the honorable thing to do would be to resign."
Calling on President Clinton to resign during the Monica Lewinsky scandal (AP, Sept. 29, 1998)
"Of course, he's my friend. This is a private, family matter. I just hope that Darlene and he work things out."
Senator Harry Reid (Politico, June 17, 2009)
"Since we found out last year we have worked through the situation and we have come to a reconciliation ... With the help of our family and close friends our marriage has become stronger."
Darlene Ensign, in a statement (June 16, 2009)
"Since 1994 John Ensign has established a lot of good will. He's been an effective member of the House and Senate, and is one of the most effective elected figures in Nevada. Because of that he has a very good chance of healing this situation."
Robert Uithoven, a Nevada Republican operative (Las Vegas Sun, June 17, 2009)
"People have survived extramarital affairs, but he's got a hypocrisy problem to deal with. He's got a serious hypocrisy problem."
Unnamed Nevada Republican operative (Las Vegas Sun, June 17, 2009)