Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a throwback to an earlier era congressional leaders who dominated their chambers — and their home states and districts — with a combination of earned loyalty, favors given and favors returned, and the ability to inspire fear in people who would thwart them.
The Nevada Democrat enjoys the unquestioned fealty of his 55-member caucus. Few lobbyists and political operatives in Washington dare cross him if he puts the word out that a particular piece of legislation matters to him. And if you’re a Republican candidate challenging an incumbent Senate Democrat in 2014 — forget about raising money on K Street.
It’s more of the same back home in Nevada. Reid withstood the Republican wave in 2010 to win a fifth term, defeating a Tea Party favorite in the general election by painstakingly building a Democratic political machine that was compared in scale to a presidential-level voter turnout operation. Reid even won in predominantly Republican northern Nevada, an achievement credited to the close attention he pays to his constituents and their interests.
“He’s on the phone a lot — and not just with union and business leaders. He calls home constantly,” a Nevada Republican insider said. “I know this because I hear all the time that Harry called. He is obsessive about it.”
Reid’s authority is not absolute. As other congressional leaders have discovered in the modern political era, Reid’s influence is tempered by the 24-hour news cycle, social media and the rising power of grassroots activists and third-party groups. But Reid, 74, is the consummate 21st century Washington power player, with allies scattered all over town.
That’s not bad for a poor kid from tiny Searchlight, Nev., located 60 miles south of Las Vegas. Reid, a Mormon, has been married to his high school sweetheart, Landra, for more than 50 years, and they have five children. One son, Rory Reid, is a former Clark County Commission chairman who waged an unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2010.
Reid still lives in Searchlight. But despite spending most of his professional life in state and federal elected offices, Reid, through investments, was able to amass enough of a fortune to afford a pricey Washington, D.C., residence in the Ritz Carlton. Reid earns $193,400 annually as the Senate majority leader.
Reid won a seat in the state assembly in 1968. Two years later, he was elected lieutenant governor. In 1982, Reid won the first of two terms in the House. In 1974 he ran for Senate and lost; one year later he ran for Las Vegas mayor and lost. He was finally elected to the Senate in 1986.