Sen. Harry Reid, one of the longest-serving party floor leaders in history, will not seek re-election and will retire after 2016, he announced on Friday.
It’s fair to say that Reid’s retirement comes as a shock to even his closest associates, who earlier this month talked openly about the race as if he were running. They said — and Reid said Friday — that the path to re-election was easier than it was in 2010, when he was considered extremely vulnerable.
Now comes the scramble to replace him in Nevada. The first name that pops out of Democratic lips on possible successors is Catherine Cortez Masto, who has long been rumored to be Reid’s preferred successor and is considered his protege.
During an interview with Nevada's KNPR on Friday, Reid said he would support Masto if she chose to run.
"I think anyone who runs against Catherine is going to be a loser," he said.
Masto, 50, is the former attorney general of Nevada, and was the nation’s only Latina attorney general when she was serving. She is considered a strong Democratic candidate. It’s an unusual situation in which Reid’s retirement gives Democrats a better chance of holding the seat — he was the No. 1 target of Republicans heading into next year’s elections.
Masto, who was term-limited as attorney general last year, left office with the winds of popularity at her back. She has some credibility with the Democratic base from her tenure as attorney general, she went hard after Bank of America for deceptive marketing and loan practices, and she ultimately withdrew a defense of the state’s ban on gay marriage. She’s now bolstering her record as the executive vice chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education.
Masto didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.
Other potential Democratic candidates include former U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, who narrowly lost in the 2012 U.S. Senate election, and 39-year-old former Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller. The latter, however, is coming off a close 2014 loss in a bid to succeed Masto as attorney general.
"There is a talented pool of Nevada Democrats who are ready to step up to the plate, and we will recruit a top-notch candidate in Nevada who will be successful in holding this seat in 2016,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana), the chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, in a statement.
The Republican field is wide open. The name to watch will be current Gov. Brian Sandoval, who was elected as Nevada’s first Latino governor in 2010. He’s extremely popular and would be the frontrunner if he decided to run, but he seems increasingly unlikely to do so.
Other potential names on the Republican side include 44-year-old State Senate leader Michael Roberson and 36-year-old Adam Laxalt, who beat Miller last year in the race for attorney general.
Watch Reid explain his decision to retire below:
Brett LoGiurato is the senior national political correspondent at Fusion, where he covers all things 2016. He'll give you everything you need to know about politics, with a healthy side of puns.