State scrambles as Sen. Harry Reid announces retirement
LAS VEGAS — Sen. Harry Reid’s surprise announcement that he will retire at the end of his term throws Nevada into a frenzy about who might replace the man who rose from the small silver-mining town of Searchlight to become one of the nation’s most powerful politicians.
The longtime Democratic leader didn’t hesitate in immediately backing former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto to run for his seat in 2016.
“I think it’s hard for her to lose,” he said during an interview on KNPR Friday morning, citing her resume.
Long before Reid announced his retirement, much of the speculation surrounding who might challenge him in 2016 centered on popular Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who won his election overwhelmingly in November.
“My focus is in on Nevada, period. Politics can take care of itself, but right now I am absolutely laser focused on getting my budget through and improving education in Nevada,” Sandoval said Friday. At a news conference for the grand opening of the Young Entrepreneurs Collective in Fallon Sandoval called Reid one of Nevada’s iconic politicians.
Reid, for his part, had nothing but good things to say about Sandoval when the topic of a possible Sandoval Senate run was brought up during his interview.
“Brian Sandoval has done a very fine job as governor. I don’t have anything bad to say about him,” Reid said.
Nonetheless, Reid stood by his pick in Cortez Masto in his plain-spoken, often acerbic, way.
“Whoever runs against Catherine, I think, will be a loser.”
Reid’s popularity in his home state — starkly divided between a Democratic south around Las Vegas and Republican nearly everywhere else — has hardly been an absolute.
What he has been is Nevada’s go-to advocate in Washington, D.C., said University of Nevada, Reno political professor Eric Herzik.
“We are a small Western state that’s going to become invisible. We’re not connected to the national economy,” he said. “He’s certainly been a champion for the gaming industry, the mining industry, and all of that disappears in 22 months.”
As for 2016, Herzik said the state’s lone Democratic Rep. Dina Titus representing the Las Vegas Strip area could pose a wild card candidacy to Cortez Masto.
“Dina Titus is a tough campaigner, very well organized, will be able to raise money. And if there’s any hesitation by Masto, Dina will eat her alive,” he said.
If Sandoval were to run, “the race tilts overwhelmingly Republican. If Sandoval drops out, there is a huge drop off in terms of candidate quality on the Republican side.”
Among them, the field could include former Nevada Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, Congressman Joe Heck, Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt or state Senator Michael Roberson, he said.
Reid’s announcement and comments afterward were peppered with sports metaphors with the senator likening the decision to walking off a baseball field at the top of one’s game, rather than trying to hang on as an aging pinch hitter.
As political watchers shifted their gaze to the on-deck circle for who might be up to bat behind him, they recalled the Washington player’s impact on Nevada.
Reaction to Reid’s announcement generally fell along party lines. Nevada Republicans wished him well in retirement and acknowledged his efforts in fighting for Nevada interests. National Republicans were optimistic about the party now being able to claim his seat.
“Throughout his time on the Hill, there was never any doubt his actions always put the interests of the Silver State first,” said Republican Sen. Dean Heller. “I look forward to working with him for the next 22 months.”
Democrats hailed Reid’s longevity and accomplishments.
“Whether you agree with his politics or not, Harry Reid has been the most important and influential political figure in the history of Nevada,” said Steve Sisolak, chairman of the Clark County Commission, the elected body with jurisdiction over the Las Vegas Strip.
“Harry Reid changed the course of history,” said U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, the only other Democrat serving in federal or top state elected office. “His leadership on issues of health care and environmental protection has left legislative landmarks unlikely ever to be matched.”
Cortez Masto did not immediately respond to messages at her office at the Nevada System of Higher Education where she is executive vice chancellor. An aide at her office says she was in meetings and unavailable for comment.