(CN) — Harry Reid, the former majority leader in the U.S. Senate and longtime fixture in Nevada and national politics, died Tuesday at the age of 82.
Reid battled pancreatic cancer in the years since his retirement from the Senate in 2017. Veteran political reporter Jon Ralston announced Reid’s death late Tuesday afternoon, calling him “probably the most important elected official in Nevada history.”
As the leader of Senate Democrats from 2005 to 2017, Reid led the party through the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, ushering the latter’s legislative agenda through Capitol Hill. Among his signature accomplishments was securing Senate passage of the Affordable Care Act.
Before he was elected to the Senate in 1986, he served in the Nevada Assembly, as lieutenant governor of Nevada, chair of the Nevada Gaming Commission and in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Born and raised in the tiny mining hamlet of Searchlight in southern Nevada, Reid spent his youth as an amateur boxer. That fighting spirit likely carried over into his political work, where he became renowned for his sharp partisan maneuvering and self-professed bluntness.
He clashed with Bush on the war in Iraq and helped quash Bush’s proposal to privatize Social Security. He fended off reelection challenges from Republicans in the purple state of Nevada, which elected him to five terms in the Senate.
While amassing incredible clout and influence on Capitol Hill, Reid became a kingmaker of sorts within the Democratic Party, particularly at home in Nevada. His influence was widely credited as a contributing factor to Democrats Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen winning their Senate races in 2016 and 2018 respectively.
Obama paid tribute to Reid on Twitter, sharing a letter he said he sent to Reid before his death. Obama said Reid’s wife Landra asked friends and colleagues to provide letters she could read to the former Senator as his health declined.
“I wouldn’t have been president had it not been for your encouragement and support, and I wouldn’t have got most of what I got done without your skill and determination,” Obama said in the letter. “I think we both saw something of ourselves in each other — a couple of outsiders who had defied the odds and knew how to take a punch and cared about the little guy.”
In a statement, Reid’s successor as Democratic leader Senator Chuck Schumer called Reid “one of the most amazing individuals I have ever met. He was my leader, my mentor, one of my dearest friends.”
Local Nevada leaders also extended condolences.
“To say that Harry Reid was an incredible Nevadan is an understatement. There is perhaps no one individual who left a bigger mark on the Silver State,” said Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve in a statement from the city of Reno and Reno City Council. “We can thank Senator Reid for many of the things that make Nevada and Reno great places to live, including our economic diversity and protecting our public lands. His service to Nevada is truly remarkable, and it was an honor to know him.”
Reid is survived by his wife of over 60 years, Landra Gould, as well as five children and 19 grandchildren.