LAS VEGAS (AP) — Former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto announced Wednesday that she will run for Harry Reid's Senate seat, less than two weeks after the Democratic leader said he won't seek a sixth term.
Cortez Masto, a 51-year-old Democrat who has been praised by Reid, said she left her new job as the executive vice chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education on Tuesday.
"I've always worked hard to protect Nevada's working families," she told The Associated Press by phone. "This gives me the opportunity to do something I not only believe in but enjoy doing."
No Republicans yet have declared their intention to run since Reid's announcement.
Cortez Masto was elected attorney general in 2006 and served two terms but could not run again due to term limits. She was replaced by Republican Adam Laxalt.
While she is considered a front-runner among the Democratic establishment, the calculus could change if other contenders enter the race. Democratic Congresswoman Dina Titus is a fierce campaigner who could pose a formidable foe if she decided to run, according to University of Nevada, Reno, political science professor Erik Herzik.
On the Republican side, potential candidates are waiting to see if popular Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval will announce a bid for the seat.
"That's the 600-pound gorilla in the room," Herzik said.
Cortez Masto's signature accomplishments as attorney general included starting a Mortgage Fraud Strike Force to investigate foreclosure-related fraud and securing nearly $2 billion for state's homeowners as part of the National Mortgage Settlement. She was also active in fighting human trafficking and ushered a bill through the Legislature in 2013 to combat the crime.
But the National Republican Senatorial Committee said they still consider the seat to be ripe for a Republican takeover. Clark County Republican Party Political Director Nick Phillips said Cortez Masto's tenure as attorney general was characterized by "extreme partisanship," citing charges her office filed against then-Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki in 2008, as he was eyeing a Senate bid. The case was later dismissed.
"We're going to have a large primary on both sides," Phillips predicted. "We're certainly looking to see who comes out of that."
Cortez Masto said she'll campaign on the issues that defined her term as Nevada's top prosecutor, including protecting seniors, women and homeowners. She said she's not focusing on her potential opponents.
"I'm in this race regardless of who gets into this race," she said.