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Harry Reid's Retirement Means a Scramble on the Hill and in Nevada Politics

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s decision not to run for reelection throws into question the future of Senate Democratic leadership.
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/ Source: NBC News

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s decision not to run for reelection throws into question both the future of Senate Democratic leadership and the fate of a perennially hard-fought Senate seat in the swing state of Nevada.

Reid, who announced Friday that he will not run again in 2016, will be departing after a decade spent shaping Democrats’ tactics on Capitol Hill, bringing a soft-spoken but hard-knuckled leadership style to the job.

The reins look likely to be handed over to New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, known for his relentless efforts at honing the party’s messaging as the chairman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Center.

Reid, who will remain in his leadership position until the end of his term, endorsed Schumer for the job shortly after his announcement.

"It's the caucus' decision but Sen. Reid thinks Sen. Schumer has earned it," Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson said.

Schumer's colleague and former Washington D.C. roommate Dick Durbin of Illinois was thought to also be in the running, but he announced later Friday that he would not seek the top post, clearing the way for Schumer.

"Sen. Durbin told Sen. Schumer late last night that he wasn't running for leader, and that Schumer has his support. Durbin intends to run again for Whip and has Sen. Reid's support. He's been speaking with senators this morning," a Durbin spokesperson said.

Washington’s Patty Murray, who would be the first woman to hold the job, and Colorado’s Michael Bennet, who helped shepherd Democratic Senate campaigns in the 2014 midterms, have also been mentioned as potential contenders but neither has expressed interest so far.

Reid, who said that his departure was in no way an indication that he worried about losing reelection in Nevada, now clears the way for what will be a top Senate race in a presidential year. The state, which holds one of the first presidential nominating contents every cycle, will certainly become a political hotspot – with a heavy influence and frequent visits from White House candidates on both sides of the aisle.

Democrats say that some of the top prospects to replace him are former state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, former Secretary of State Ross Miller, and former Congressman Steven Horsford.

Nevada political experts, like Jon Ralston, believe Masto is the big favorite here.

The Republican list to run for the seat includes Gov. Brian Sandoval, state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, and Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison.

The same Nevada political experts believe it's unlikely Sandoval would run.

NBC News' Frank Thorp V contributed to this report.