Reid's Nevada Senate pick joins race
© Francis Rivera

Sen. Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidHarry Reid slams Comey for Russia election meddling Suicide is not just a veteran problem — it is an American problem The Hill's Morning Report — Washington readies for Mueller end game MORE’s (D-Nev.) handpicked successor will run in 2016 to replace him in the Senate.

Former Nevada attorney general Catherine Cortez Masto (D) said Wednesday she will try to succeed Reid, who announced late last month that he would not seek a sixth term.

“I’m running for the Senate to continue my work standing up for Nevada seniors, consumers, homeowners, women and children,” Cortez Masto said in a statement.

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Cortez Masto sought to highlight her record as attorney general, arguing that she “held accountable the special interests that crashed our economy and fraudulently forced countless Nevada families into foreclosure,” cracked down on meth labs in a fight against the state’s growing drug problem, fought for domestic abuse victims and children preyed upon by sex traffickers, and sought to protect seniors from scam artists.

“As a native Nevadan, former prosecutor and Attorney General, I care about the people of our state and that’s who I’ll be standing up for in the Senate,” she said.

Reid’s announcement set off a mad scramble among his lieutenants to replace him, but the Senate minority leader moved quickly to throw his weight behind Cortez Masto.

National Democrats quickly threw their weight behind Cortez Masto shortly after she officially announced her candidacy. 

“Catherine Cortez Masto has made protecting Nevada families and consumers her life’s work, and she is the strongest candidate to keep this Senate seat in Democratic hands and continue Harry Reid’s legacy of fighting for Nevada’s best interests,” Sen. on Tester (D-Mont.), the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in a statement.

“We look forward to supporting Catherine Cortez Masto in her campaign and are confident she will go on to serve as the next Senator from Nevada,” he added.

Cortez Masto has long been groomed as a potential successor to Reid and could be a formidable candidate.

As a Hispanic woman, she’s a fresh face for the party in a state with a large and growing Hispanic population. She has ties to the deep-pocketed EMILY’s List, as well as other national women’s and Hispanic groups, and is a strong fundraiser.

EMILY's List has not endorsed in the race yet, but a spokesperson for the group told The Hill it's "past time to elect the first Latina to the U.S. Senate.”

Still, that might not be enough to clear the field.

Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) has told The Hill she's giving "serious thought" to running for the seat. She said Cortez Masto's decision would have no bearing on her own.

Titus has bucked Reid’s campaign wishes in the past. In 2012, Reid pushed her to undertake a rematch against Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.), who defeated her in 2010. Instead, she ran for her current House seat, winning easily in a safe Democratic district and pushing out a Reid-backed candidate. 

Former Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller (D) is also being mentioned as a potential candidate, although he’s fresh off a loss in 2014, when he ran for attorney general.

Whether Democrats can hold Reid’s seat in a swing state during a presidential year will be critical in determining which party controls the Senate after the next campaign cycle.

Senate Republicans see Nevada as a strong pick-up opportunity and were hoping Reid would run for reelection just so they could get another chance to take him out.

Nevada Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval is wildly popular in the state and would be the strongest GOP candidate, but he appears likely to remain in his current job.

No Republicans have announced an intention to run yet.

- Updated at 5:38 p.m.