Esquire: All About Harry Reid, the Man Who Wasn't Supposed to Win

Mark Warren takes a step back in Esquire and looks at the origins of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's power -- and how he pulled off the reelection race in Nevada that prognosticators thought early on he might lose. From a scene at a pre-election rally with the Democrat known as "Landslide Harry":

He is a famously dull speaker. He has a thin voice, a hunched manner, and is given to mild, even banal language. But not today. He was going through his speech, which he had printed out on two little cards. The theme was I'm not finished fighting. It wasn't so much the words that were different, a Teddy Roosevelt -- ish populism that is at the core of his view of the world, but how Reid spoke them, his authority, his conviction -- for once in his life, he was commanding an audience with the passion of his voice.

And as he hit the windup -- I'm not finished fighting the big banks, the big insurance and big oil companies that take advantage of us! -- the crowd, which had been waiting politely for Mrs. Obama, was surprised to instead find itself swept up in a speech by Harry Reid. A chant -- Harry! Harry! Harry! -- started low and then built, until it filled and echoed in the big space. Reid tried to continue, but that only aroused the crowd more, and so finally he just stopped, the enveloping voices sweeping him up, and he surrendered with a broad grin.

Harry Reid had stirred an audience that had thoroughly expected to remain unstirred. He had launched a populist salvo back at the Tea Party, which had monopolized such gestures all year. ...

What was new, in the dying light of this campaign, was that Reid had showed something close to rhetorical power, which he typically just does not possess. Some political figures are filled up, replenished, by contact with masses of people. Some seem depleted by such rigors. And then there's Reid, with his feathery voice and his opaque countenance, who most often just seems to want to be alone. In Washington he attends no receptions, socializes hardly at all, and spends every free minute with Landra, his wife of fifty-one years. There was a moment, just before he walked out to face the crowd in that high school gym, when he stood still and by himself, held his speech between his fingertips, and cast his eyes downward in a prayerful pose, as alone in a crowd as a man of the people can be.

The central mystery of his public existence has been: How did someone like Harry Reid, with his unconventional collection of political skills, ascend to such astonishing heights? And beneath even that: How does anyone of consequence crawl out of a hole in the ground in Searchlight, Nevada?

Read the whole story in Esquire.

Presented by

Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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