Nevada Sen. Harry Reid announced this morning he’s not going to seek a sixth term in the U.S. Senate.
Reid, 75, who rose to the highest level ever attained by a Nevadan in the federal government as majority leader, said an injury that occurred New Year’s Day prompted him to think about his future.
“This accident has caused Landra and me to have a little down time. I have had time to ponder and to think,” he said. “We’ve got to be more concerned about the country, the Senate, the state of Nevada than about ourselves. And as a result of that I’m not going to run for re-election.”
Reid said he’s going to serve out his term as minority leader of the Senate.
“I am going to be here for another 22 months, and you know what I’m going to be doing? The same thing I’ve done since I first came to the Senate,” he 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.”
Reid is a native Nevadan, born in Searchlight to a miner and a laundress.
“Someone with my background, my upbringing, to have the experiences I’ve had is really a miracle. 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.”
Reid, a gold miner’s son who rose from nothing in the tiny desert town of Searchlight had grown highly unpopular at home due to positions he’d taken on national issues. He turned back a challenge in 2010 and was sure to face an aggressive, big-money attack by Republicans if he ran again.
Reid endorsed former Nevada attorney general Catherine Cortez Masto to run for his seat next year. Democratic Rep. Dina Titus said she also is weighing a bid.
Unworried about picking favorites, Reid told KNPR radio, “I’ve never been a shrinking violent.”
Many Nevada Republicans would like to see Gov. Brian Sandoval run for the Senate seat, but he gave little encouragement Friday. Other GOP possibilities are Rep. Joe Heck and former Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki.
Since returning to work after his fall, Reid has struggled to regain sight in his right eye, appearing in the Capitol in bandages and then with his eye shielded by tinted glasses. He told The Associated Press early this month the injury was “a tremendous inconvenience,” but nothing more, and not enough to stop him from seeking re-election.
“I’ve had black eyes before,” said Reid, who was an accomplished amateur boxer in his youth.
In his statement, Reid cited the need to “be more concerned about the country, the Senate, the state of Nevada than about ourselves. And as a result of that I’m not going to run for re-election.”
Reid said his role leading the Senate Democrats is “just as important as being the majority leader” and he would remain focused on that for the nearly two years left in his term.
He immediately endorsed brash New York Sen. Chuck Schumer to succeed him as leader of a party desperate to regain the Senate majority.
On Friday, Schumer seized the inside track to succeed Reid as the Democratic Senate leader after next year’s elections. Potential rival Dick Durbin of Illinois said he would back Schumer. Durbin is currently Reid’s No. 2; Schumer is No. 3.
Stylistically, Reid and Schumer are miles apart. Schumer is voluble, outgoing, eager to talk campaign strategy, on TV or anywhere else. He sometimes works with Republicans, including an ultimately unsuccessful effort to overhaul immigration laws in 2013.
But Schumer, 64, is a partisan fighter too, hailed by colleagues as a top fundraiser and strategist. He headed the party’s Senate campaign operations in 2006 and 2008, when Democrats made sizable gains. Colleagues’ gratitude helped him surpass Durbin as Reid’s likely successor.
Schumer, who spent much of Friday phoning fellow Democratic senators, said in a statement he was “humbled to have the support of so many of my colleagues.”
Durbin said he hopes to retain the second-ranking leadership post, known as party whip. Allies of Sen. Patty Murray of Washington said she might also seek that job.
Reid, who came to Congress in 1982, typically has won Nevada elections by narrow margins, and Republicans were heavily targeting him in 2016. Both parties now plan all-out bids for his open seat.
In a video statement Friday, Reid said Democrats must retake the Senate majority and “it is inappropriate for me to soak up all those resources” while remaining the caucus leader.
President Barack Obama called Reid “a fighter” who pushed for jobs, better health care and a safer environment. He also called the senator a friend, but the two aren’t exactly cozy.
Reid grew up in Searchlight. His mother sometimes took in laundry for pay. His father, a miner, committed suicide when Reid was 32.
Seemingly best-suited for black-and-white photos, Reid rarely appears at Washington dinners or on TV talk shows. His voice is so mumbling and low reporters strain to hear him.
Fellow Democrats chose him as their leader for his institutional knowledge, listening skills and tenacity.
Briefly holding a 60-seat, filibuster-proof majority after the 2008 elections, congressional Democrats — led by Rep. Nancy Pelosi in the House, and Reid in the Senate — muscled Obama’s Affordable Care Act to enactment, without a single Republican vote.
Other times, however, Obama and Pelosi worked around Reid. That was largely the case in resolving the 2013 “fiscal cliff” dilemma. When negotiations ground to a halt, raising the possibility of tax hikes on nearly all working Americans, Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky crafted a compromise with minimal input from Reid.
While never wildly popular with voters, Reid is a canny campaign strategist. Facing a potentially potent GOP opponent in 2010, Reid helped a less experienced tea party-affiliated Republican win the nomination. Then he comfortably beat her in the general election.
Most tributes to Reid on Friday, regardless of political party, used words like “fighter” to describe him.
“Harry Reid has always been a tough advocate for the people of Nevada, and I have always appreciated the candid and straightforward nature of our relationship,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Reid’s brusqueness has hit many targets over the years. Acquaintances say he often ends phone calls without “goodbye.”
In 2013 he clashed with his leadership predecessor — Tom Daschle of South Dakota — over an open Senate seat in that state. Reid wanted a former congresswoman to run, while Daschle wanted a former aide. Daschle’s choice prevailed but lost the general election last November to Republican Mike Rounds in a strongly pro-GOP year.
Despite the tension, Daschle praised Reid on Friday. “He had a very, very difficult job,” Daschle said in an interview. “This is a challenging time for anyone in political leadership.”
Daschle said Reid was justified in changing the filibuster rules in 2013, calling it “probably inevitable.”