Harry Reid (D-Nev.)
Harry Reid keeps a photo of his childhood home on the wall of his
Senate office. The little shack is a reminder, the minority whip
says, of where he comes from.
Nevada is an unlikely former desert outpost that should have disappeared
when the mining industry played out around the turn of the last
century. But the little town simply refused to die. Its residents
continue to occupy a patch of land halfway between Las Vegas and
Laughlin, Nevada. Reid is so fond of the place that he wrote a
book about it: "The Camp That Didn't Fail."
observers have used the town's history as a metaphor for the senior
Nevada senator's personality. The quiet, unassuming little community
was Reid who, after the 2000 election, spent hours on the Senate
floor engaged in what appeared to be amiable conversation with
Republican Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont. In May of 2001, Jeffords
dropped a bombshell when he announced he was leaving the GOP,
changing his affiliation to Independent, joining the Democratic
caucus, and shifting the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.
quiet conversion process was typical of a Reid operation: low
key, behind the scenes, and effective. Reid spent so much time
on the Jeffords project that a Democratic aide dubbed him "the
Jim Whisperer." After the switch, Reid gave his chairmanship
of the Environment and Public Works Committee to Jeffords.
self-effacing style belies his strategic political abilities.
He has said that growing up among miners taught him how to settle
things with a fight if need be. He was a middleweight boxer in
high school and has admitted to getting "called out"
a time or two for an old-fashioned fist fight.
ascent to the second-highest Democratic leadership post started
in Henderson, Nevada, a small town outside Las Vegas where he
boarded with local families in order to attend high school (Searchlight
only had a two-room elementary school). Reid was so well liked
by his teachers and town leaders that they paid his way to college
at Utah State University. He graduated from USU in 1961, and moved
to Washington to attend law school at George Washington University.
In Washington, Reid became familiar with the corridors of power
by working nights as a Capitol Hill police officer.
law school Reid returned to Henderson to serve as city attorney,
where he worked on revising the city charter and expanding municipal
In 1968, Reid was elected to the Nevada State Assembly. In 1970,
he served as running mate for his former high school history teacher
and boxing coach Mike O'Callaghan who was making a bid for the
governor's mansion. The two won their respective races and Reid,
age 30, became the youngest lieutenant governor in Nevada history.
1970s were a trying decade for Reid. In 1972, his father committed
suicide at the age of 58. Reid ran for the Senate in 1974, losing
to Paul Laxalt by 624 votes. In 1975, he ran for mayor of Las
Vegas and lost. O'Callaghan helped resurrect Reid's career when
he appointed his former student to head the powerful Las Vegas
gaming board in 1977.
1982 Reid made a successful bid for Nevada's new 1st District
U.S. House seat. In 1986, his former opponent Laxalt retired and
Reid won his Senate seat by defeating Jim Santini 50 percent to
a moderate Democrat from a politically divided state that is trending
Republican, has never won a race with more than 51 percent of
the vote. In 1998 he came within 428 votes of losing his Senate
seat to Republican John Ensign after the most expensive Senate
campaign in state history. Ensign was elected to Nevada's other
Senate seat in 2000. After surviving the Ensign scare, Reid re-tooled
his staff and ran for party whip and won.
a senator, Reid has become known as a shrewd political operator
and fierce protector of his state's interests. He recently lost
a heated battle to stop the designation of Yucca Mountain, Nevada
as a nuclear waste facility. Proponents of the project were reportedly
surprised by the power Reid could muster in opposition as well
as the varied ways in which he fought for its defeat.
the Democratic whip, Reid is known for his omnipresence on the
floor, relishing the procedural grunt work of Senate politics,
and his loyalty to Democratic leader Tom Daschle.
has full authority to make decisions on my behalf, but when he
doesn't believe he is in a position to make a decision, he comes
to me," Daschle told Congressional Quarterly.
has won begrudging respect among Republicans for his effective
leadership and has gained the trust needed to make the kinds of
deals that keep the Senate running.
word's good," former Republican Whip Don Nickles of Oklahoma
has said. "To me, that's one of the most important things
you can say about any senator."
colleagues say he rarely needs to reprove a colleague but won't
shy away from a needed confrontation. More often Reid relies on
his own record as a tireless worker and party loyalist to keep
Democrats in line.
some other senator came up and asked, 'Could you take one for
the team,' you'd say, 'When did you ever take one for anybody?
Give me a break,'" Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) told Congressional
Quarterly. "But you look at Harry and say, 'OK, Harry.' " Reid and his wife Landra have five children and twelve grandchildren.
-- By Jason Manning, Online NewsHour