No sooner had political reporters swallowed the surprise news Friday morning from Harry Reid that the longtime Democratic Senate leader would not seek a sixth term next year than they began agreeing on the next likely step in Nevada politics: That the exodus of a Democrat perhaps disliked by Republicans more than Barack Obama spells a likely increase in the GOP's current 54-46 seat majority in the Senate in 2017.
"The Republicans will now pick up this seat for sure," Hal Furman, former Reagan administration official and 1994 Republican Senate nominee in Nevada, told Newsmax soon after Reid's announcement, "The Republicans have a long bench with a number of strong Senate possibilities. Democrats have only one, and no one is sure about her even running."
Furman was referring to Catherine Cortez Masto, who was termed out last year after two terms as state attorney general. Attractive and considered close to Reid's political organization, Masto is perhaps the lone candidate capable of keeping Reid's seat in Democratic hands.
Among Republicans, Reps. Joe Heck and Mark Amodei were reportedly exploring the race soon after Reid's decision became public. Heck, 53, is a physician and U.S. Army reserve brigadier general, with a solid financial base in Clark County (Las Vegas).
Amodei, 58, won the Reno-area House seat in a much-watched special election to succeed fellow Republican Dean Heller following his election to the Senate in 2011. Both are considered strong conservatives who disagree on next to nothing —
except, as one local wag put it, "who should be U.S. senator."
Also mentioned as a Senate prospect is Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, who won his first term in the state's second-highest office last fall.
Many Republicans feel it would be poetic justice for Nevada's state attorney general, Adam P. Laxalt, to run for and win the same seat which his grandfather, Paul Laxalt, defeated Reid for by less than 700 votes in 1974. (Reid went on to serve in the House and went to the Senate in 1986 after the elder Laxalt retired.) But the younger Laxalt, 36, was only elected attorney general in November and has signaled he won't seek another office for a while.
Gov. Brian Sandoval, who just won his second term in November in a landslide, has long said he would not run for the Senate under any circumstances.
At 74, Reid is the longest-serving senator from the Silver State and one who clearly wielded influence in the manner of two past senators —
Paul Laxalt, considered Ronald Reagan's closest political ally, and Patrick McCarran, Democratic senator from 1932-54 and known while Senate Judiciary Committee chairman as a tough opponent of communist subversion in government and illegal immigration.
Reid rose to a position higher than either and, in keeping the Senate from voting on more than 300 pieces of legislation passed by the Republican House from 2014 until the GOP captured the Senate last year, became a premier target for retribution from conservatives. In relinquishing his seat, however, he may have done them a favor by giving them an opportunity to raise their Senate ranks even higher.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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