WASHINGTON (AP) - Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, the wily Nevadan who dominated the Senate for a decade from the minority to the majority and back again, announced Friday he will retire after five terms.
Three-term New York Sen. Chuck Schumer faces a relatively clear path to replace him as the next Democratic leader. Reid endorsed the No. 3 Senate Democrat, and Dick Durbin of Illinois, the current No. 2, told Schumer Thursday night he had his support, according to a spokesman.
Durbin plans to run again for the job of Democratic whip.
"I think it's very important to have continuity in our leadership," Reid told KNPR radio in Nevada about backing Schumer.
Senate's Harry Reid announces he won't seek re-election
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, speaks during a news conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. Hillary Clinton pulled out a victory over Bernie Sanders in Nevadas Democratic caucuses that will help right her campaign as both candidates head into a 10-day blitz of crucial contests starting next Saturday in South Carolina. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., leans on a stack of documents pertaining to campaign finance reform during a Capitol Hill news conference Tuesday, December 3, 1996, where the Democratic leadership for the 105th Congress was announced. The documents represent the hearings and legislation involved in campaign finance reform, which Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle of South Dakota said would be the Democrats top priority in the 105th Congress. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., right, talks to reporters, as actor Mike Farrell, left, looks on, as the men urged rejection of a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, in the Capitol, Tuesday, June 4, 2002, in Washington. (AP Photo/Kenneth Lambert)
Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid, D-Nev., right, and Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speak to the press following a closed meeting of the Nine Eleven Working Group on Capitol Hill, Monday, Oct. 4, 2004, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., talks about his future role as the 109th Congress' Senate minority leader, during an Associated Press interview in his Capitol office, in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2004. Reid succeeds Sen. Tom Daschle, D-SD, who was defeated for re-election on Nov. 2 in South Dakota. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., speaks during a press conference with first responders at the Capitol on Monday, July 11, 2005 in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., listens to witness testimony during the Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Sept. 25, 2006 regarding the war in Iraq. Retired military officers on Monday bluntly accused Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld of bungling the war in Iraq, saying U.S. troops were sent to fight without the best equipment and that critical facts were hidden from the public. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., listens to a reporter's question during a news conference after Republican attempts to scuttle the non-binding timeline of Iraq troop withdrawal failed on a vote of 50-48 on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 27, 2007. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. prepares to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 24,2008, before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing: "Crimes Associated with Polygamy: The Need for a Coordinated State and Federal Response." (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. listens to questions on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2009, after the Senate passed the health care reform bill . (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
NORTH LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 01: U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) speaks at a get-out-the-vote rally featuring first lady Michelle Obama at Canyon Springs High School November 1, 2010 in North Las Vegas, Nevada. Recent polls show Reid, who is seeking his fifth term, four points behind Republican challenger Sharron Angle. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES â SEPTEMBER 22: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., participates in the Senate Democrats' news conference in the Capitol on Thursday Sept. 22, 2011, to urge House Republicans to fully fund disaster relief. (Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call)
Senate majority leader Harry Reid, left, greets supporters as he arrives to speak to members of the Asian American community Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Senate majority leader Harry Reid, center, speaks to members of the Asian community during a campaign stop at a Chinese restaurant Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
MEET THE PRESS -- Pictured: Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) appears on 'Meet the Press' Sunday, Jan 9, 2011 at his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.. (Photo by Stephen J. Boitano/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
FILE In this March 25, 2015 file photo, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. waits on the floor of the House Capitol Hill in Washington for the arrival of Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani, who was to speak before a joint meeting of Congress. Reid is announcing he will not seek re-election to another term. The 75-year-old Reid says in a statement issued by his office Friday that he wants to make sure Democrats regain control of the Senate next year and that it would be "inappropriate" for him to soak up campaign resources when he could be focusing on putting the Democrats back in power. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
FILE - In this March 17, 2015 file photo, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. Reid thanked likely Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul of Kentucky for dispensing "expert advice" on Reid's injured right eye. "I really appreciate it very, very much," the Nevada Democrat said to Paul, a Republican senator and opthamologist who was taking his turn presiding over the chamber Wednesday. "I want the people of Kentucky to know that, how thoughtful, considerate and kind you've been to me over these months," Reid told Paul. On New Year's Day, Reid injured the right side of his face while exercising and has had surgery to restore the sight in his eye. (AP Photo/Molly Riley, File)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 03: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) talks to reporters after the weekly Democratic Senate policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol February 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. Reid is wearing a bandage over his right eye after undergoing surgery to repair damage from an exercise accident. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 22: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-AZ) speaks during a pen and pad session with reporters at the US Capitol January 22, 2015 in Washington, DC. Reid spoke about the injury he suffered over the Christmas break and talked about issues before the US Senate. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 20: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., makes his way through the Senate Reception Room after the senate luncheons on his first day in the Capitol since injuring himself in a exercise accident, January 20, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Senate Minority Leader Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) leaves a meeting with Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill January 20, 2015 in Washington, DC. Reid returned to work at the US Capitol on Tuesday for the first time since suffering injuries in an exercise accident in late December at his Las Vegas-area home. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015. Reid, the U.S. Senate's top Democrat, will have surgery next Monday to try to restore full vision to his right eye. Reid suffered three broken ribs, a concussion and broken facial bones near his right eye socket in a New Year's Day accident. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images ** Local Caption *** Harry Reid
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., talks to reporters in his Reno, Nev. office on Monday, Aug. 18, 2014. He said he doesn't intend to waste his time raising money for Democrat Bob Goodman in an unlikely bid to unseat popular Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval in November. (AP Photo/Scott Sonner)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 29, 2014, after a Democratic caucus meeting. Democrats and Republicans in Congress vowed urgent support for a $225 million missile defense package for Israel, boosting the likelihood that legislation will clear Congress before lawmakers begin a monthlong vacation at week's end. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 15, 2014, during a news conference about competing bills from the Democrats and Republicans on employee health coverage and birth control under the Affordable Care Act. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
FILE -This June 24, 2014, file photo shows Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada on his way to speak to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. After changing Senate rules to speed President Barack Obama's nominees through the Senate, Reid has started demanding 60-vote majorities for virtually everything else, most recently to deny Republican leader Mitch McConnell a chance to block rules limiting carbon emissions. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 17, 2014, after a Democratic caucus meeting. President Barack Obama will meet with Congressional leaders at the White House on Wednesday to discuss the turmoil in Iraq. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
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Reid, 75, who shepherded key Obama administration initiatives including the president's health care law, lost his role as majority leader - the Senate's top job - when November's elections swept the Republicans into control. He suffered a personal setback on New Year's Day, falling while exercising and suffering serious bruises and a lasting injury to his right eye.
Reid was the Republicans' top target in 2016 and widely considered vulnerable to losing the seat he'd held since 1987.
Still, the stubborn gold miner's son had cheated political death before, and few were writing him off.
In a statement early Friday, Reid said the recovery period from his eye injury, which may leave him with permanent vision loss, gave him time to think about his political future.
"We have to make sure that the Democrats take control of the Senate again," he said. "And I feel it is inappropriate for me to soak up all those resources on me when I could be devoting those resources to the caucus, and that's what I intend to do."
Reid, who rose from nothing in the tiny desert town of Searchlight, Nevada, had grown more unpopular at home due to positions he'd taken on national issues. He turned back a challenge in 2010 and was sure to face an aggressive, big-money attack by Republicans if he ran again.
President Barack Obama issued a statement that said Reid "has become not only an ally, but a friend."
In a surprise, Obama called in to the radio show, chatting with Reid about their years together pushing legislation, fighting the Great Recession and overhauling the nation's health care system.
Said Obama, "We've had a great run."
As Democratic leader, Reid thrived on behind-the-scenes wrangling. He guided the Senate through a crippling recession and the GOP takeover of the House in the 2010 elections, which sparked years of bitter partisan battles and congressional gridlock.
He was known for frequent gaffes and impolitic remarks, once complaining that tourists to the Capitol smelled, and calling former President George W. Bush a "loser" and a "liar."
Since returning to work after his fall, Reid has struggled to regain sight in his right eye, appearing in the Capitol in bandages and then with his eye shielded by tinted glasses. He told The Associated Press early this month that the injury was "a tremendous inconvenience," but nothing more, and not enough to stop him from seeking re-election.
"I've had black eyes before," said Reid, who was an accomplished amateur boxer in his youth.
Even from his post in the minority, Reid leveraged Senate rules to exert steely control. He held his 46-member caucus together against attempts by Republicans to pass legislation undoing Obama's executive actions on immigration, forcing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to back down, and House Speaker John Boehner to follow. The episode left some House Republicans complaining bitterly that Reid might as well still be majority leader.
In classic fashion, Reid could not resist needling McConnell, with whom he had an icy relationship, as he disclosed his departure.
"My friend Sen. McConnell, don't be too elated. I'm going to be here for 22 months," Reid said in a video he filmed to announce his retirement.
McConnell was gracious in his comments on Reid's retirement.
"Nothing has ever come easily to this son of Searchlight," the GOP senator said in a statement. "Underestimated often, his distinctive grit and determined focus nevertheless saw him through many challenges. They continue to make him a formidable opponent today."
Reid insisted that his decision had nothing to do with his injury or his re-election chances, saying "the path to re-election is much easier than it probably has been anytime that I've run for re-election."
Republicans would surely have disagreed, but the implacable self-confidence was typical of Reid. He survived re-election in 1998 by only 428 votes, and won in 2010 after meddling in the GOP primary to weaken the establishment candidate so that he ended up running against a tea-party backed Republican with some extreme positions.
Reid has built a formidable Democratic machine in Nevada, working to move up the state's caucuses so that it plays a significant role in the presidential nominating contest, and in the process registering droves of Democratic voters in the swing state.
Reid also endorsed former Nevada attorney general Catherine Cortez Masto to run for his seat next year. That should make her a solid contender for the Democratic nomination. On the Republican side, Gov. Brian Sandoval has been encouraged to run but has said he intends to serve out his full term as governor. Other possibilities are Rep. Joe Heck and former Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki.
Associated Press writer Charles Babington and Riley Snyder in Carson City, Nevada, contributed to this report.