John Ensign filed for U.S. Senate on Thursday, saying the Yucca Mountain issue is "incredibly important" to Nevadans and that he will try get a stronger statement on the subject from GOP presidential contender Gov. George W. Bush of Texas.
Bush issued a statement earlier this week saying he would decide the Yucca Mountain issue on science, not politics.
He was promptly attacked by Sens. Richard Bryan and Harry Reid, both Democrats, who said the statement was "wishy-washy" and gave Nevadans almost no assurance Bush as president wouldn't approve bills designed to force nuclear waste on the Yucca Mountain site in southern Nevada.
Ensign said his interpretation of the statement was that Bush would have vetoed this year's legislation attempting to do that just as President Clinton did.
"But we want to clarify that," he said.
"This is an issue that is incredibly important to the people of this state," he said.
Ensign, a Republican, is considered the front-runner in the race to replace retiring Democrat Bryan. He said he has already raise about $2.7 million for the contest and expects his final total to be about $5 million.
He was one of Nevada's members in the House of Representative for two terms until he decided to challenge Reid two years ago. He was beaten in one of the closest races in state history but announced he was still interested in the Senate the day after Bryan announced plans to retire.
He said other issues that are important include education, "which is a federal issue because the federal government is too involved in education today." He said he wants to "get Washington bureaucrats out of our schools and put teachers and parents back in."
Ensign said his stands including critical comments about the Forest Service while speaking in Elko and are in tune with most Nevadans.
"Nevada voters are a very independent lot," he said. "Most of the time we're trying to keep the federal government out."
He faces a challenge from Democrat Ed Bernstein, a prominent Las Vegas lawyer who is augmenting party contributions with a sizable infusion of his own money.
Ensign said the big difference between facing Bernstein and Reid is, "We're not running against an incumbent. That was a titanic struggle."
He also said he has "buried the hatchet" with Reid and that the two would have no trouble working together if he were elected.