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Reid retirement shakes up 2016 battle for the Senate

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Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) retirement is triggering a free-for-all for his seat — with big implications for control of the Senate in 2016.

Senate Republicans see Nevada as their best chance at a pickup this election cycle, and whether Democrats can hold Reid’s seat in the swing state will go a long way in determining which party controls the Senate after next cycle.

{mosads}Reid moved quickly on Friday to throw his support behind former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto (D), telling KNPR that he’ll support her if she runs and discouraging anyone from opposing her.

“Whoever runs against Catherine I think will be a loser,” he predicted.

A fresh face could be the best thing for Silver State Democrats. Reid’s favorability is low in the state, and while he’s a ferocious campaigner, someone less polarizing could help them hold onto the seat in a presidential election — if they can avoid a contentious primary.

“I think this is actually a good thing for the Democrats,” Nevada politics expert Jon Ralston said. “I’ve seen so many polls showing how bad Reid’s numbers are. And while he has a formidable organization, if you get a cleaner horse to run, that helps Democrats’ chances, especially as this is shaping up to be a mess of a Republican primary.”

Both parties could still be facing chaos as candidates scramble for the seat, though Reid and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) are likely to do all they can to try to avoid that from happening.

“I think Cortez Masto has the right of first refusal on this, there’s no question about that, because of viability, profile and winnability,”  said Billy Vassiliadis, a Nevada Democratic power-broker and close Reid ally. “Catherine has to be considered the most desirable candidate for Reid’s seat.”

But Reid’s support may not be enough to head off a Democratic primary. Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) told The Hill Friday morning that she’s giving “serious thought” to running for the seat and that Cortez Masto’s decision wouldn’t have any bearing on her own plans. 

Titus has a history of bucking Reid’s wishes to pursue her own political aspirations, most notably when she ignored Reid’s request to run for a rematch against Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) in a swing district and instead ran for a solidly Democratic seat in Las Vegas.

“[Cortez Masto] would be a strong candidate,” another source close to Reid’s operation told The Hill. “What is unknown is [if] the Dina Tituses of the world who have big egos won’t go quietly.”

Cortez Masto would be the first Latina senator in U.S. history, and she has long been groomed as a possible Reid successor. She’s a strong fundraiser, a favorite of the deep-pocketed EMILY’s List, national Hispanic groups and Democrats hoping to find more prominent Hispanic voices in the party. Democrats are excited about her prospects.

“It’s Catherine,” said another Reid ally when asked who the Reid machine would back. “She’s an incredibly attractive candidate on a number of levels: the first being her ability to raise money, the second being her record.”

That ally pointed to Nevada’s large and rapidly expanding Hispanic population as an advantage for her and touted her fight against Bank of America during the foreclosure crisis, which hit Nevada especially hard, as a selling point.

Former Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller (D) is also being mentioned as a possible candidate, but Nevada Democrats say Miller is less likely to run following his 2014 loss and is unlikely to buck Reid’s wishes.

Miller told The Hill that he was caught off-guard by Reid’s announcement and hasn’t had time to consider a bid, though he didn’t sound like he was raring to go for a race.

“I was as surprised this morning as everyone else. I just frankly haven’t even had time to process it. I just relocated my family to Las Vegas. I just started a law firm,” he said. ” I haven’t even had time to discuss this with my wife.”

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