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Published Friday, March 27, 2015 | 6:38 a.m.
Updated Friday, March 27, 2015 | 5 p.m.
In a surprise announcement this morning, Harry Reid said he won’t run for what would be his sixth term in the United States Senate.
In a video statement to supporters, the Nevada Democrat and Senate minority leader listed several reasons for his decision to end his three-decade career in Congress.
He said he and his wife, Landra, had some downtime to think after Reid suffered a New Year’s Day exercise accident that badly injured his right eye.
But in an interview this morning on KNPR radio’s “State of Nevada” talk show, he said there was “no magic moment” when he made the decision.
“We’ve got to be more concerned about the country, the Senate, the state of Nevada than about ourselves,” Reid said in his video statement. “And as a result of that, I’m not going to run for re-election.”
In an interview with The Washington Post this morning, Reid endorsed the Democrats’ No. 3 leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer, to take his place as party leader in the Senate. The energetic and camera-loving New York senator would have “a different style,” said Reid, known for his quiet, behind-the-scenes approach.
The endorsement skips over the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois. Durbin said today he would back Schumer.
Reid would have been one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats running in 2016. He noted that the race would have been competitive and expensive.
Republican donors Charles and David Koch plan to spend $900 million in 2016 and promised to pour money into the effort to unseat Reid. But Reid said he wasn’t concerned about a tough campaign.
“Everyone should understand that I am not afraid of the Koch brothers,” he said on KNPR, dismissing recent polls indicating his unpopularity in Nevada. “If I had depended on polls, every election I’ve had going back to 1986, I would have been a loser.”
In his earlier video statement, Reid said, “We have to make sure that the Democrats take control of the Senate again. And I feel it is inappropriate for me to soak up all those resources on me when I could be devoting those resources to the caucus, and that’s what I intend to do.”
The 75-year-old would have been 82 when he finished a sixth term.
He was already entering the race at a disadvantage because of his political unpopularity through increasingly contentious battles in a polarized Congress. But fundraising prowess, a strong political team in Nevada and a long history of winning tough re-elections were on his side.
Politicos’ eyes now turn to a wide-open Senate race in the swing state, with no declared candidates on either side.
Reid said on KNPR that he has encouraged former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto to run as his successor.
“Catherine Cortez Masto wants to run,” he said. “She’s a great candidate, and I think she would do extremely well.”
Cortez Masto today sidestepped the issue.
“Today is a day to thank (Reid) for everything he’s done on behalf of our state,” she said. “I’m learning about this as we move along.”
The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee said it would start recruiting candidates to replace Reid immediately.
“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,” Chairman Jon Tester said in a statement.
The Hill published a story today saying Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., also was considering seeking Reid’s seat.
“This is a decision I will make carefully after talking with family and close friends to ensure it is in the best interest of District 1 and the people of Nevada,” Titus said today in a statement.
Before Reid’s announced retirement, popular Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval had indicated he didn’t have plans to challenge Reid, but it wasn’t clear how the news would impact his decision to seek a Senate seat.
In a statement issued this morning, Sandoval lauded Reid for his service but did not shed any light on his own plans.
“Senator Reid has been an influential voice in Congress on behalf of Nevada’s interests, particularly on issues such as Yucca Mountain and renewable energy development,” Sandoval said. “I appreciate the opportunity to have worked closely with him to strengthen Nevada and remain committed to continue that work as he completes his final term.”
State Sen. Majority Leader Michael Roberson, a Republican, also is considering a run.
In a sign the race is still competitive, the Republican National Committee immediately sent out a fighting-words statement: “Senator Reid’s decision is welcome news to Nevadans who have been poorly represented for decades.”
President Barack Obama, meanwhile, called Reid a fighter, an ally and a friend. He said he looked forward to working with Reid to “keep fighting for every American over the next two years.”
“In his five terms as a U.S. senator, Harry has fought for good jobs, a safer environment for our kids, and affordable health care for all,” Obama said in a statement.
“He’s never backed down from a tough decision, or been afraid to choose what is right over what is easy,” Obama said. “Time and time again, Harry stood up to special interests and made sure every one of his constituents had a voice in their nation’s capital.”
Sen. Dean Heller, a Nevada Republican who will become the state’s most senior senator when Reid finishes his term in 22 months, said Reid has always put the interests of Nevada first and that he looked forward to continue working with him.
The news was a surprise for most Reid watchers and supporters.
After the senator spent several months recovering from broken ribs and his eye injury, supporters recently saw him appear to ramp up fundraising for an anticipated race and collect resumes for campaign managers.
In January, Reid told reporters he planned on running, and several weeks later, he gathered his Capitol Hill staff for a private meeting in which he also voiced his intent to run.
Before today’s announcement, insiders said Reid loved the Senate and was not the type of politician who would enjoy spending his days lounging at his home in Henderson.
“The final factor was the idea that he wanted to go out on top,” said Reid’s former communications director, Jim Manley.
Nevada Democratic politico and close confidante Billy Vassiliadis said he was prepared for an announcement either way about Reid running or retiring.
“Being home with Landra for an extended time is probably the first time in 34 years that he actually considered the alternative,” Vassiliadis said. “I think it just didn’t seem so bad to him when he thought about it.”
Reid’s wife also appeared in the video announcement.
She said she hated when politicians disingenuously cited more family time for their reasons to retire, but in her husband’s case, it’s true.
“He’s a wonderful husband and a wonderful father,” she said, “and so that’s been more important than the other things he’s done with his life.”
Vassiliadis said a Senate without Reid will be a huge change on both sides of the political aisle.
“Most people in the political arena here don’t remember life before Harry,” he said. “He’s been the patron saint of the state for so many years.”
Reid, who has typically eschewed questions about his legacy, ended his KNPR interview with a thought on it today.
“I want people to remember me as someone who never forgot where he came from,” Reid said, “and who fought every day of his life to make sure that the kids like Harry Reid — these little boys from Searchlight and these kids in these teeming big cities — that we could look to me and say, ‘You know, if Harry Reid could do it, I could do it.’
“And that’s what I want my legacy to be,” he said.
In the video, Reid thanked Nevadans for allowing him to represent them in Congress for so many years.
“Someone with my background, my upbringing, to have the experiences I’ve had is really a miracle,” he said. “And I want you to know that I am so grateful for your invaluable support. I have done my best. I haven’t been perfect, but I’ve really tried my hardest to represent the people of the state of Nevada.
“From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”