But the Democratic caucus included senators across the ideological spectrum and, with few moderate Republicans left, it took all of Mr. Reid’s legislative acumen, doggedness and even shamelessness to win some close votes. On the health law, for example, he offered Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska a generous expansion of Medicaid funding in his state, a deal that critics called “the Cornhusker Kickback.”
Mr. Reid’s hard-nosed tactics handed Democrats a series of major achievements, but he enraged Republicans and was vulnerable to defeat entering what would be his final re-election campaign in 2010.
He overcame his own unpopularity by meddling in the Republican primary, as his allies undermined a potentially strong candidate and helped lift a far-right conservative, Sharron Angle, who was herself as gaffe-prone as Mr. Reid. He won the general election comfortably even as the rise of the Tea Party movement propelled Republicans to victory across the country.
That same single-mindedness and indifference to criticism, however, even embarrassed some of his allies two years later when he sought to undermine Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy in 2012 by repeatedly, and without evidence, claiming that Mr. Romney had gone a decade without paying income tax.
Mr. Reid was even more contemptuous of former President Donald J. Trump, calling him “a racist” and “sexual predator” who achieved prominence only because of the fortune he had inherited.
Being born into wealth was, of course, alien to Mr. Reid. At the end of his career — after great financial and political success and raising five children, one of whom became an elected official in Las Vegas — he relished showing visitors his dusty hometown. But he recalled that it was not until he saw Alex Haley give a talk about his book “Roots” that he stopped feeling ashamed by his impoverished background.
“He said be proud of who you are, you can’t escape who you are,” Mr. Reid said in his Senate farewell speech, adding that at that point he proudly became “Harry Reid, the guy from Searchlight.”