Harry Reid: Key Democrat now faces Republican majority

Image caption,
Friends of Mr Reid say he learned his values in the tiny Nevada mining community of Searchlight

US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has survived one of the toughest election fights of his career, defeating Tea Party favourite Sharron Angle to win a fifth term.

But Mr Reid, who mustered huge Democratic turnout, overwhelming support from Nevada Hispanics and a barrage of television ads to defeat Mrs Angle, must now contend with an emboldened and strengthened Republican minority.

His ability to wrangle the Democrats to pass major legislation will be soundly tested in the next two years - if he is able to retain his leadership position.

Mr Reid, a teetotalling Mormon former amateur boxer and US Capitol policeman, was elected to the Senate in 1986 after two terms in the House of Representatives.

Master tactician

He ascended to the leadership of Senate Democrats in 2005, when the party was in the minority and President George Bush was in the White House.

He lacks the screen presence for acting as the party's face on chat shows and on the hustings, and the sharp elbows helpful for cajoling and bullying recalcitrant legislators. Nonetheless, Mr Reid is known as a skilled inside player, a master of Senate procedure and tactics.

Mr Reid has referred to himself as a Senate workhorse rather than a show horse. He is known as a personally affable leader able to command loyalty in a politically diverse Democratic caucus.

"I always would rather dance than fight," he said when he was elected leader, "but I know how to fight."

Harry Reid was born in 1939 in the small town of Searchlight, Nevada, in a home without an indoor toilet. His father, Harry Reid Sr, was a miner who would sometimes take his son into the mine shafts.

Mr Reid attended a two-room elementary school. With no high school in his hometown, he attended Basic High School in Henderson, 45 miles (72.4km) away.

There, he met his high school sweetheart and future wife, Landra Gold.

Mr Reid attended Utah State University, where he converted to Mormonism. He later studied law at George Washington University in Washington DC, where he worked part time as a policeman at the US Capitol.

Ascent to leadership

Mr Reid was elected to the Nevada state legislature in 1968, when he was 28 years old. After stints as lieutenant governor and Nevada Gaming Commission chairman, Mr Reid was elected to the House of Representatives in 1982 and, in 1986, to the Senate. He was re-elected in 1992 and 1998 with less than 52% of the vote, and in 2004 he won 61% of the vote.

The 2004 election was a miserable one for the Democrats, who saw Mr Bush re-elected to the White House, while their strength in the Senate was diminished. One casualty was Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

With the party looking for a new direction, the Senate caucus turned to Mr Reid, who was known as a moderate with ties to the Republican leadership. Upon winning the leadership, Mr Reid pledged to compromise and co-operate with Senate Republicans.

"I believe that consensus-building is one of my responsibilities, and I'm going to do everything I can to build as much consensus and as many compromises as possible," he said at the time.

In 2006, the Democrats won a Senate majority after voters soured on Mr Bush and the Republican party.

Mr Reid was suddenly tasked with overseeing an ideologically diverse caucus that included liberals such as Charles Schumer of New York and conservative Democrats like Jon Tester of Montana and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania.

But Mr Reid's biggest test as majority leader came after the election of Barack Obama. Determined to block Mr Obama's legislative agenda, the Republican minority made a practice of routinely invoking procedural rules requiring 60 votes to proceed with legislation.

In order to pass legislation, Mr Reid was effectively forced to corral his entire caucus.

While he was ultimately able to shepherd Mr Obama's signature policy proposal - an overhaul of the US healthcare system - Mr Reid saw his popularity in his home state plummet.

On 2 November 2010, Mr Reid defeated Mrs Angle in a contest that turned largely on which candidate the voters liked least.

His re-election was one of the few bright spots on a dark night for the Democratic party, which lost control of the House of Representatives in a historic landslide and lost at least six seats in the Senate.

With a diminished Senate majority, Mr Reid faces an even tougher challenge passing legislation than in the first two years of Mr Obama's presidency. He also may face a leadership fight - liberal Senate Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois and Mr Schumer of New York have been mentioned as possible challengers.

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