After insisting for months he would run for re-election, Senate minority leader Harry Reid is calling it quits and retiring next year. In 2013, Roll Call reported that Reid had told them he’d like to stay in the Senate leadership till 2022, when he would be 82. Reid indicated “other Democrats would only get their chance to lead the caucus if they pried the title from his cold, dead hands.”
But conditions have changed since then. In his retirement video, Reid cited the gruesome injuries to his eye and face that he suffered in an exercise accident in January as affecting his decision, but political considerations also had to factor in. For all of Reid’s bombast and bullying, his political machine in Nevada isn’t invincible. In his five elections to the Senate he has only won more than 51 percent of the total vote once. In 2010, his son Rory was crushed when he tried to run for governor of Nevada. Reid certainly knew Republicans were gunning for him in 2016 and didn’t want to risk leaving politics a loser.
Reid’s Democratic caucus will breathe a private sigh of relief that there will be a changing of the guard. The likely successor will be New York senator Chuck Schumer, a fundraising machine who is as confrontational with Republicans as Reid but privately better able to cut behind-the-curtain deals.
As for Nevada, Republicans now have a golden opportunity to pick up the state’s other Senate seat with Reid’s retirement. They had a banner year in 2014 there, winning control of the state legislature and every statewide office. But there are obstacles: (1) Democratic turnout spikes in Nevada in a presidential year; (2) they could face a repeat of their 2010 Senate primary, which featured acrimonious battles between establishment and tea-party Republicans; and (3) Democrats have a formidable candidate who could clear their primary unopposed — Catherine Cortez Masto, a former state attorney general who would have broad appeal to the state’s growing Hispanic population.
Republican governor Brian Sandoval, himself Hispanic, has foresworn interest in the Senate race but may be forced to reconsider in light of Reid’s retirement.