The Corner

Will Ensign Enlist?

As the Des Moines Register pointed out, it barely mattered that Sen. John Ensign (R., Nev.), visiting Iowa yesterday, said flatly, “I’m not running for president in 2012.” It barely mattered that he failed to contact or meet with the state GOP chairman. His appearance in Iowa nonetheless set off a wave of 2012 speculation.

If Ensign is indeed running-by-not-running (which is not unprecedented — Barack Obama did the same thing beginning in November 2004), then he needs to show his face early on in Iowa.

“I think he’s doing the right thing,” says Matt Leonardo, an Iowa campaigner from last year, of Ensign’s (R., Nev.) trip to the heartland. Leonardo’s firm, Revolution Media Group, hasn’t taken a side yet for 2012, but he says that his 2008 client, Fred Thompson, learned the hard way what Ensign (perhaps), Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), and other early Iowa visitors seem to grasp.

“You have to be there, to make the positive connection,” he said. “You can’t just drop in around election time with a huge media campaign. People in Iowa expect you to meet them, to shake their hands.”

Ensign, Leonardo noted, is a life-long mainstream conservative who fits within the proper ideological bounds for a Republican nominee. “He checks off all the boxes you’d need for a Republican primary,” he said. He is also telegenic and has a positive life-story. A veterinarian by trade who once represented Las Vegas in the U.S. House, Ensign nearly defeated Sen. Harry Reid (D., Nev.) in 1998 before winning Nevada’s other Senate seat in 2000.

Whether Ensign runs or not, it has to be heartening for conservatives that even this early on, the field has attracted a lot of names that are very ideologically palatable.

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