The Slatest

This Is the Woman Harry Reid Wants to Replace Him in the Senate

Catherine Cortez Masto delivers her attorney general acceptance speech after winning re-election in 2010.

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid announced Friday morning that he’s retiring, and he’s wasting no time trying to coronate his successor. The Washington Post is reporting that the outgoing senator—who would have been up for re-election in 2016—says he favors the state’s former attorney general, Catherine Cortez Masto, as his replacement.

The Nevada Senate race in 2016 could be pretty interesting. Reid was widely perceived as one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents, but his open seat could give Republicans an even better pickup opportunity (though that thesis is hotly debated, as Jeff Singer details at Daily Kos Elections).

If Cortez Masto runs, she could be quite competitive. After being term-limited out of the attorney general’s office, she became executive vice chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, which oversees colleges and universities in the state. During her short time there, she’s drawn national attention for her position on campus carry legislation. USA Today reports that current Nevada policy gives college presidents veto power over whether or not someone can carry a weapon on campus. But the Nevada Legislature is considering legislation that would take that power away from them, allowing people over 21 to carry concealed weapons on college campuses. Cortez Masto is an adamant opponent of that change.

“The law works right now and from our perspective, it does not need to be changed,” she told USA Today. “The need for them to have this broad authority to carry a concealed weapons doesn’t exist. This is a solution in search for a problem that doesn’t exist.”

That wasn’t Cortez Masto’s first foray into gun politics. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in 2013 that she joined Mark Kelly—Gabby Giffords’ husband—to lobby for legislation that would require background checks for most gun purchases. That legislation eventually passed, but Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed it.

Nevada is a very purple state, and debates over gun rights draw lots of controversy there (as they do around the country). The Cliven Bundy standoff, when some Bundy supporters pointed weapons at federal agents, was in Nevada. And Sharron Angle, who lost to Reid in his 2012 re-election contest, once called for “Second Amendment remedies” to public policy problems. Gun rights are a galvanizing issue for conservative activists, and could likely be an important issue in the race to replace Reid.

Cortez Masto might not be the only Democratic Senate contender. Rep. Dina Titus told the Hill on Friday that she’s also putting “serious thought” into launching a Senate bid.