Former Nevada attorney general Catherine Cortez Masto announced Wednesday that she will run for Harry Reid's Senate seat in 2016. (Kevin Clifford/AP)

Updated at 5:36 p.m.

Former Nevada attorney general Catherine Cortez Masto announced Wednesday that she will run for the Senate seat being vacated by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid in 2016, a move that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee swiftly embraced.

Cortez Masto announced her decision to run for the seat in an e-mail to supporters, acknowledging outright that the race will likely receive enormous attention from national political groups eager to sway control of the Senate.

“I’ve spent my life and career fighting to protect the families of Nevada. And today, I’m proud to announce that I am running to become the next U.S. Senator from Nevada,” Cortez Masto wrote. “As a native Nevadan, former prosecutor and Attorney General I care about the people of our state and that’s who I’ll be standing up for in the Senate.”

Cortez Masto has been widely expected to make a bid for the seat. Reid has pledged to back her. And the DSCC endorsed her on Wednesday, signaling its hopes of avoiding a potentially bloody primary which could hurt the party's chances of keeping the seat.

"She is the strongest candidate to keep this Senate seat in Democratic hands and continue Harry Reid’s legacy of fighting for Nevada’s best interests," said DSCC Chairman Jon Tester (Mont.) in a statement.

If elected, Cortez Masto would become the first Hispanic woman to serve in the Senate, which she wrote would be "an honor, and an incredible opportunity for me to fight for all Nevadans." The Nevada Democrat was first elected state attorney general in 2006, a post she held for two terms. She was not eligible for reelection due to term limits.

She has already become a top target for national Republicans eager to hold onto control of the Senate in 2016. The National Republican Senatorial Committee wasted no time characterizing Cortez Masto as a rank-and-file Reid loyalist, pledging to keep her from winning the seat.

“Despite being Harry Reid’s handpicked candidate, Catherine Cortez Masto will quickly learn that running for Senate is no picnic. Nevada was a top pick up opportunity for Republicans before Reid threw in the towel and his handpicked liberal candidate jumping in the race does nothing to change that," said NRSC spokesperson Jahan Wilcox.