Back home, Reid’s legacy will include putting Nevada on the presidential-primary map—in 2008, Reid arranged for the state to vote fourth, after Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, and before Super Tuesday—and stopping the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste repository outside Las Vegas. Reid survived a tough reelection fight in 2010 against a little-known Republican, Sharron Angle, by deploying his trademark ruthlessness—Reid’s son Rory, for example, who was simultaneously running for governor, got no help from his father and wound up losing by double digits.
But Reid’s machine faltered in 2014, when Republicans won every state office and both houses of the legislature. In 2016, Reid would have been the top target of national Republicans and of the Koch brothers, the billionaire conservative activists whom Reid has excoriated in sharply personal terms. Without Reid on the ballot, Democrats will not have to deal with his personal unpopularity and political clumsiness, but the party bench is painfully thin. Reid told Nevada’s public-radio station Friday that he was encouraging Catherine Cortez Masto, a well-regarded former state attorney general, to run to succeed him. Brian Sandoval, the popular governor, would be the strongest Republican candidate but is said not to be interested; other GOP prospects include the state Senate majority leader, Michael Roberson.
Reid can be erratic, and he doesn’t always win. In 2011, he turned his annual address to the Nevada legislature into a bizarre tirade against the state’s legal brothels, a momentary crusade that went nowhere. He takes care of his enemies as much as his friends: After his 2010 reelection, which the conservative Review-Journal had bitterly opposed, the paper’s editor and publisher were suddenly and mysteriously ousted. Reid bears some of the blame for the increasing partisanship and gridlock in Congress, and his outbursts were sometimes over the top, as when, in 2008, he declared, “I can’t stand John McCain,” or when he falsely claimed in 2012 that Mitt Romney had paid no taxes. The late Washington Post columnist David Broder was no fan of Reid, calling him “a continuing embarrassment thanks to his amateurish performance.”
Yet behind the pasty, ill-spoken facade was a complex and fascinating man. Without the job to which he applied such single-minded focus for so long, what will Reid do? For Reid loyalists, who were given no warning before Friday’s announcement, it’s hard to imagine. “Can you imagine the guy as a lobbyist?” Manley asked, with a bark of a laugh. “I don’t think so.”
In his video announcing his retirement, Reid vowed to make the most of his remaining time in office: “My friend Senator McConnell, don’t be too elated,” he said. “I am going to be here for 22 more 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 didn’t go on to say what that was, but as the camera panned across photos of a young Reid in boxing gear, it was easy to fill in what he meant: fighting.