Image: Ensign
Lauren Victoria Burke  /  AP
Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., is seen talking with reporters on his way to a vote on Monday, June 22, in Washington.
updated 6/25/2009 3:03:58 PM ET 2009-06-25T19:03:58

Republicans on Thursday elected Sen. John Thune to the leadership post vacated by Sen. John Ensign, who stepped down after admitting to an extramarital affair with a campaign aide.

Thune will lead the Senate Republican Policy Committee, the No. 4 position in the leadership, and play a role in shaping the Republican message and agenda on health care, climate change and spending.

Thune had served as vice chairman of the conference, the No. 5 leadership job. He captured attention in 2004 when he defeated then-Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

Thune is seeking re-election in 2010 and has been viewed by some Republicans as a potential 2012 presidential aspirant. His campaign committee reported nearly $4.4 million in cash on hand at the end of the March reporting period.

Ensign acknowledged last week that he had an affair with a campaign staffer from December 2007 through August 2008. The Nevada senator recently apologized to his Senate colleagues.

Thune has been a consistent conservative voice in the Senate. His campaign recently created a Web site called SupremeCourtWatchOnline.com monitor the deliberations over Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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