Republican leaders say they are hoping to enlist the aid of former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy to help them convince embattled Nevada Sen. John Ensign not to seek re-election. "All we’re asking for, as a party, is a second chance. And I’m not sure that we will get that as long as John is contemplating a run for another term," said one GOP leader." We’re not expecting miracles, but if Tony could get the Eagles to take him off our hands, that would be great."
Republican leaders say they are hoping to enlist the aid of former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy to help them convince embattled Nevada Sen. John Ensign not to seek re-election.
"With his work in getting Michael Vick signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, I think Tony Dungy has proven to us that he knows how to get the job done," said Sen. John Cornyn, who oversees the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "All we’re asking for, as a party, is a second chance. And I’m not sure that we will get that as long as John is contemplating a run for another term. We’re not expecting miracles, but if Tony could get the Eagles to take him off our hands, that would be great."
When Mr. Ensign first announced that he had had an affair with a former campaign aide, Mr. Cornyn said the party "didn’t think it was any big deal." But since Mr. Ensign’s first publicly admitted to the extramarital affair in June, the troubles for the Republican Party have continued to mount.
Mr. Cornyn said the affair — which has triggered complaints that Mr. Ensign and his parents, Michael and Sharon Ensign, may have violated federal campaign law with payments made to the senator’s ex-mistress and her family in April 2008, more than a year before the senator's liaison became public knowledge — had reached the point where it had even become an embarrassment to senators.
On Friday, in a delicately handled reintroduction of Republican family values to the public, Sen. Cornyn and his colleagues laid out their case for why they wouldn’t give Mr. Ensign a second chance if the public promised to give the GOP one.
Seated at a table outside the C Street house that is affiliated with a secretive Capitol Hill group known as the Fellowship, a subdued Mr. Cornyn, flanked by Sen. Tom Coburn, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, and a life-size cardboard cutout of Tony Dungy, described Mr. Dungy as "an informal mentor" whom he hoped to meet in person some day and really get to know.
"From everything I hear, Tony is someone who John will listen to. And it’s our hope that our message, coming from Tony, will finally get through," Cornyn said.
Cornyn, Coburn, and Sanford spoke quietly, thanking one another for helping redefine the Republican Party. At one point they offered a flicker of a smile to the cardboard cutout of Dungy. But the three elected officials acknowledged that while they will have a sympathetic audience in the Senate locker room, they will most likely face a far more contentious reception among party loyalists, even if the GOP somehow quickly regains its derring-do style that made it a phenomenon.
Sanford, who called Ensign "a soul mate," said he thought a majority of Republicans "and probably Eagles players" wanted the senator from Nevada to do well.
"Having committed an act that was likewise cruel and unethical, I understand to a certain degree," Sanford said, alluding to his own extramarital affair, for which he says he has forgiven himself. "Our country is a country of second chances. I paid my debt to society. That was a humbling experience. I can’t explain how deeply hurt and how sorry I was about what I had done to myself. I’m not defending what I did, I’m just saying that I was only doing what those who had come before me had done.
"Once everything went down and I had to explain to the voters what had happened. And they saw that it was Senator Ensign’s fault. I asked them for a second chance to be a better governor, to do the right things and show them that, for the good of the party, I was willing to see to it that Senator Ensign doesn’t run again in 2012."
At Friday’s press conference, Coburn, who had an emotional meeting about forgiveness at the C Street house with Doug Hampton, the husband of Ensign’s mistress, said he had known, even before the affair came to light, that what Ensign was doing was wrong.
"For the life of me, I can’t understand why I was involved in such pointless activity. Why did I risk so much at the pinnacle of my career?" he said.
Later, he added: "It’s a surreal feeling right now sitting here next to a cutout of Tony Dungy. I couldn’t envision it two years ago. I’m glad I got opportunity and have a second chance. I won’t disappoint and neither will our party."
Philip Maddocks can be reached at email@example.com.