New NRSC chair: I'd bet that Reid retires in 2016

Smart take, or just high-level trolling? Fortunately for Sen. Roger Wicker, the NRSC chair has to provide both in the course of his duties, and he’s at least within the realm of strong possibility here. Reid is about to recall what it’s like in the minority, and he’s not getting much younger. Will Reid hang up his cowboy-poetry spurs in 2016, giving Republicans a wide-open opportunity for a pick-up in an otherwise challenging cycle? Wicker’s betting yes:

The new National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman pointed out that Nevada’s Republican governor, Brian Sandoval, who was just reelected overwhelmingly, could run against Reid in 2016.

“To me, that state is going Republican,” Wicker said on MSNBC. “I think Gov. Sandoval has a real good opportunity now after a great run as governor, perhaps to run for senator. So, you know, frankly I’ll say this: I think Harry Reid may decide to retire. That’s my prediction.”

Reid won a tough race in 2010 against Republican Sharron Angle, whom Democrats were able to paint as extreme.

Wicker was asked if Republicans would go after Reid with the same force that Democrats went after Republican leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), this year.

“Well, absolutely,” Wicker said. “But you know, more importantly, I think that the citizens of Nevada will go after Harry Reid. I think he’s out of step with the state.”

Don’t put too much money on it. Reid is only 74 years old, not exactly ancient by Senate standards, and will be 76 in 2016. That’s only eight years older than Hillary Clinton, who wants to run for the top spot. The big wave election made it more difficult for Democrats to take the majority back in 2016 but it’s still a doable goal. Reid will have just two years in the wilderness before one more Nevada campaign gives him a shot at running the upper chamber again and getting a little revenge on Republicans. You don’t think Reid will stick around for that?

It’s that Nevada campaign that might change Reid’s mind. Democrats lost across the board last week, and his favorite in the Lieutenant Governor race crashed to an ignominious defeat. Democrats don’t have many options to run against Brian Sandoval if he decides to jump into the race and exit the governor’s office. Reid’s the only Democrat left with a statewide office. and he’s the only Democrat who has the clout to fight the Republican trend in the state. Even if Reid wants out, Nevada Democrats would be desperate to keep him in the race.

Besides, if Reid wanted to retire in 2016, he’d have bowed out of the leadership race rather than go to this much effort to keep his position:

Since last week’s elections, Reid spoke privately with many unnerved Democrats, promising to open up messaging and policy strategy to include more of them – an under-the-radar effort to keep control of the caucus.

And while Reid’s strategy worked — he won his spot as minority leader at a closed-door meeting Thursday – he still lost at least six votes from swing-state moderates, the first real challenge to his leadership by his own party in nine years. And with his own reelection two years from now, Reid, 74, is having to reinvent his own role in a Democratic Party that’s looking for fresh faces and new energy heading into 2016 …

According to sources familiar with Reid’s one-on-one talks, the Nevada Democrat said he would open up his weekly Tuesday leadership meetings to a broader group of senators. He would overhaul how they hold their weekly policy lunches, while allowing more Democrats to drive the party’s message on individual issues, like Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) did on health care earlier this year. And he would loosen his grip on the amendment process, allowing a more free-flowing set of votes on the floor.

This is a man who’s looking to extend his stay, not fade away on the ol’ Searchlight trail. Ultimately, though, that decision will get made by Nevada voters who clearly got fed up with Democrats over the last few years. Sandoval should be able to beat Reid, if Reid sticks around for the experience.

Meanwhile, a Republican who’s been hearing retirement rumors says “no frickin’ way“:

Sen. Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill., has a message for anyone who doubts his will or appetite for a second term.

“No frickin’ way am I retiring,” he told CQ Roll Call in an exclusive interview Thursday from his Capitol Hill office, following some speculationin local press over the senator’s future and his shifting political operation. ”With all this rehab, for me just to walk was a huge effort. I had to re-learn how to walk again after the stroke. And all the rehab and all the effort shows the mental determination times 10 to keep serving.”

In an extended interview, Kirk sought to dispel any notion he’s ready to leave the Senate — or that he lacks the stamina to seek re-election after suffering an ischemic stroke in January 2012. Kirk said he feels great, and any opponents who question his fitness to serve will regret it.

“That would not be taken well by the people of Illinois, who would not like that kind of attack,” Kirk said. “That would be an advantage to me if they did that.”

Illinois might be a tougher lift for the GOP, with a presidential race at the top of the ticket in 2016. Democratic strength has fallen back in the state to Cook County in the midterms. Without a native son in the presidential race, it may not be enough for the Senate race, especially with a well-regarded incumbent with such an uplifting story for his campaign narrative.