Ensign’s approval rating plunges, but he still beats Harry Reid

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After Nevada Sen. John Ensign announced last week he had engaged in an extramarital affair, his popularity plunged. But despite the drop, his favorability ratings remain higher than the state’s senior senator's, majority leader Harry Reid.

A new Mason-Dixon poll of Nevada voters found that Senator Ensign’s favorability rating stood at 39 percent, a drop of 14 percentage points from the previous month. The poll, conducted last Thursday and Friday for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, also noted that Ensign’s unfavorability rating had jumped to 37 percent now, up 19 points from the previous month.

Leaving the leadership

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Ensign, a staunch Christian conservative, stepped down last Wednesday as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, the No. 4 spot in the GOP leadership. He had flown to Nevada the day before to reveal the affair.

While Ensign’s standing with the public was harmed, the level of trouble the affair has caused could well fade by the time the senator must face voters again in 2012. Already, the Mason-Dixon poll found that 62 percent of Nevada voters do not think he should resign over the matter. Some 29 percent think he should leave office.

Despite the drop in his standing, Ensign remains the most popular senior official in his state. Gov. Jim Gibbons (R) has a 10 percent favorability rating, while Senator Reid’s favorability rating stands at 34 percent. Reid will stand for reelection in 2010.

As Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia’s Institute for Politics told the Review-Journal, “That sure says something, that the guy involved in the adultery scandal is the most popular senior elected official in the state. I don’t know what it says, but it says something.”

Short-term help for Reid

Still, observers think Reid will benefit from Ensign’s woes. As Washington Post blogger Chris Cillizza notes in “The Fix”, "the good news for Reid is that Republicans have yet to find a candidate – and Rep. Dean Heller (R) is almost certainly a 'no' – and their time line to do so has been pushed back by the controversy surrounding Ensign.”

At a Monitor-sponsored breakfast with reporters earlier this year, Reid stressed that he was moving aggressively to raise money and prepare for a tough race. That is probably a wise plan since, as Cillizza notes, “When you are less well thought of by voters than an admitted adulterer, it's never a good place to be.”

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