Sen. Harry Reid

WASHINGTON — A senator with deep Utah ties will likely assume one of the most powerful positions in the U.S. Senate.

No, it's not veteran Republican senators Orrin Hatch or the just re-elected Bob Bennett.

It is Harry Reid Utah educated and an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who is the second-in-command Senate Democrat from Nevada.

Reid, 64, is poised to take over the top leadership post for the minority party now that Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., was an election-day victim of a Republican juggernaut that saw the GOP boost its Senate majority to 55-45.

The nation's capital has been abuzz with speculation the past week that Reid — who faced only minimal opposition in his bid for a fourth term —appeared to be positioning himself for a run at the top Democratic job should Daschle falter.

His only opposition could come from Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., who lost his own bid for the top post to Daschle by one vote. But Dodd disavowed any interest in the post Wednesday in an interview with CNN.

And he told Cox News Service, "I really decided that I can better serve my party and my state by staying out of the race," Dodd said.

Dodd's recalcitrance removed the only obvious hurdle. "I have commitments from a majority of my colleagues," Reid said.

President Bush even called Reid to seek "reconciliation" between the warring political parties, Reid said.

"I appreciate the president reaching out, and I look forward to working with him on important issues for Nevada and the nation," Reid said. "At the same time, I will not shirk from my responsibility to stand up and fight for Nevada values and Democratic principles."

Reid was unopposed in his bid for the No. 2 position, and he has spent the past decade cultivating relationships in what Capitol insiders see as laying the groundwork for a bid for the top job.

"I have a great deal of respect for Harry," Hatch said. "He is a tough, smart guy and has been a fighter for his party and his causes as the Democratic whip. And he also knows about the issues Utahns face."

Bennett says "all signs" point to Reid being the new minority leader, and he likes the idea.

"I believe this will change and improve the culture of the Senate," Bennett said. "As Tom Daschle was the architect of the obstructionist tactics, which have bogged down the Senate for so many years, Harry Reid is open to genuine, bipartisan progress."

Reid's office did not return Deseret Morning News calls. Democratic senators will elect their leaders before year's end.

Bespectacled and unassuming, Reid bears a resemblance to former U.S. Rep. Wayne Owens, with whom he shares many of the same politics.

Declared an "enviromental champion" by the League of Conservation Voters, his adamant opposition to nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain has been a thorn in the side of the Utah delegation, which wants Yucca Mountain as the alternative to storing the waste on Goshute tribal lands in Tooele County.

Reid uses the same arguments for keeping the waste out of Nevada that Utah officials use for keeping the waste out of the Beehive State — a point Reid has made repeatedly to Utah's elected officials to no avail.

"I am dumbfounded why the governor is not fighting with us," Reid told the Deseret Morning News in 2002. "We fought (alongside Utah) against Skull Valley. And I don't know why the two senators of the state are not helping us."

Reid's rags-to-power rise has been well documented. He was born in 1939 in the tiny Nevada mining town of Searchlight, where his father was a hard-rock miner. He lived in a small cabin without indoor plumbing, and he attended a two-room elementary school.

Since Searchlight had no high school, Harry boarded with local families in Henderson while he attended Basic High School. He later married his high school sweetheart, Landra Gould, with whom he had five children, all of whom attended Brigham Young University.

With the financial aid of families in Henderson, Reid later earned an associate's degree in science from Southern Utah State College (now Southern Utah University) and then a bachelor of science degree from Utah State University.

He then went to law school at George Washington University, working nights as a police officer on Capitol Hill.

After a term in the Nevada state assembly, he became the youngest lieutenant governor in Nevada history at age 30. He lost his first bid for the Senate in 1974, but in 1983 was elected to the first of two terms in the U.S. House.

He was elected to the Senate in 1986. He won a fourth term Tuesday with 61 percent of the vote and even prominent Nevada Republicans campaigned on his behalf. Among his supporters are a former chairman of the Republican National Committee and even the father of the man Reid beat six years ago, who is now Nevada's other senator.

Reid has won respect from Democrats in the Senate for his deft managerial skills and for leading a marathon filibuster this year that awed his colleagues. And Republicans like his integrity.

"His word's good," former Republican Whip Don Nickles of Oklahoma said, as Online News Hour reported. "To me, that's one of the most important things you can say about any senator."

His party loyalty and willingness to take on the grunt work of the minority party has also won him allies among Democrats who will now choose a new leader.

"If 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.'"

Not that Reid isn't willing to buck his party, especially on issues like abortion, where he is pro-life.

And he can play politics with the best of them. He is credited for wooing Republican Sen. James Jeffords to leave the Republican Party, swinging control of the Senate to the Democrats for a time.

Reid has dropped enough hints over the years that he wants the Senate leadership job. Two years ago, when it looked like Daschle might retire and run for president, both Reid and Dodd made known their interest in succeeding him.

Even when Daschle changed his mind, Reid appears to have been covering his bases.

Associated Press reported that Reid has donated more than $1 million from his political PAC to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — greasing the wheels for a leadership bid. Dodd's PAC gave only $100,000.

Reid is rushing this Senate leadership choice to quash any potential competition, Eric Herzik, political science professor at the University of Nevada at Reno, told Gannett News Service. But becoming Senate minority leader would push him into the spotlight, he said.

"He's not going to run for president four years from now. He doesn't have those ambitions," Herzik told Gannett. "But he could be a power broker in the party. Harry Reid is as influential as any Democrat in this country."


E-mail: spang@desnews.com