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Senate Democrat Reid to retire; wants Schumer to replace him as leader

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) (L) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) talk to the media after a weekly Senate party caucus luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, in this February 10, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Files

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said on Friday he will retire next year and threw his weight behind New York Senator Chuck Schumer to replace him as leader after he leaves office.

Reid will stay in his post for another 22 months but his announcement positions Schumer, a New Yorker and Wall Street ally, as his heir apparent.

Schumer's nearest potential rival, Senator Dick Durbin, will not fight Schumer for the Democrats' top Senate post, said Durbin's spokesman. He added that Durbin, of Illinois, intends to seek reelection to the No. 2 job of Senate Democratic whip.

Reid, who is 75 years old and recently suffered an accident while exercising, told the Washington Post that Schumer, now the No. 3 Senate Democrat, would likely be the next leader.

"I think Schumer should be able to succeed me," Reid said in an interview with the newspaper. The next leader will not be selected until after the November 2016 elections.

Reid's announcement muddied the broader outlook for the party as it tries to regain Senate control in 2016. He had a tough re-election fight in Nevada in 2010 and it was unclear if the Democrats would be able to hold onto his seat next year.

A former amateur boxer who represented Nevada in the Senate and the House of Representatives, Reid fractured some ribs and facial bones when exercise equipment he was using broke.

On Friday, he said the "down time" caused by the mishap gave him time to ponder the Democrats' future. The party lost Senate control in the 2014 elections. It now holds 44 of the 100 seats in the Senate. Republicans hold 54 and independents hold two.

"We have to make sure that the Democrats take control of the Senate again," Reid said in a video announcing his decision. A prodigious fundraiser, Reid said re-election resources could now be used to help other Senate Democrats instead of himself.

Reid has close ties to the Senate Majority Political Action Committee, which spent nearly $47 million in the 2014 campaign cycle backing Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, making the PAC a big political spender.

SCHUMER LIKES SPOTLIGHT

Schumer, 64, was elected to the Senate in 1998. He has a strong appetite for publicity. He successfully worked to expand the number of Democrats in the Senate as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from 2005 to 2009.

A former Senate Democratic aide noted that over the past few years a “closeness that developed over time” had become apparent between Reid and Schumer, with the two working together on legislative and messaging strategy.

Schumer is known as a friend of Wall Street. That could attract support from bankers and financiers but could also put Schumer at odds with liberal Democrats. Durbin is among their leaders, as is newcomer Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, elected in 2012. She has ruled out a bid for Senate Democratic leader in 2016, a spokesman for her office said.

There was already some liberal backlash to a Schumer candidacy for leader. On Friday, the liberal group MoveOn.org said Schumer's support for two pieces of Iran-related legislation should disqualify him from the post.

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