WASHINGTON (AP) — A very public spat between the No. 2 and No. 3 Democrats in the U.S. Senate is dashing the party's hopes for a drama-free succession after Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's retirement.

Dick Durbin of Illinois and Chuck Schumer of New York are longtime colleagues and former housemates on Capitol Hill who have clashed for power in the past.

This time, Durbin stood aside before Reid's retirement became public Friday, allowing the outspoken Schumer to lock up support for the job of Democratic leader. Reid publicly blessed Schumer and Democrats hoped a messy leadership fight had been avoided.

But the mess was still to come.

According to Durbin, in the same conversation where Durbin told Schumer he would not challenge him for leader, Schumer pledged his support for Durbin to hang onto the No. 2 job as Democratic whip. According to Schumer, that never happened.

Remarkably, for a town that thrives on anonymous gossip, spokesmen for both men have taken the disagreement public.

Reid himself waded into the dispute between his lieutenants on Wednesday, giving an interview to CNBC in which he noted that the leadership election remains nearly two years away, and counseled all involved to "just sit down, relax."

Although Durbin's staff says Reid privately backed Durbin for whip, Reid said in the interview he would not be taking sides.

Waiting in the wings is Sen. Patty Murray from Washington state, now No. 4 in the leadership echelon. She is being talked about for the whip job and would likely have support from a number of other female senators. Murray is carefully leaving the door open, backing Schumer for leader but declining to weigh in on Durbin.

"I'm always open to whatever opportunity is there to make sure that I can be the strongest voice possible for the people of our state," she told reporters earlier this week.

Schumer is not publicly backing Murray, but refusing to endorse Durbin has created the impression that he is maneuvering to push the mild-mannered Illinoisan out the door.

By Wednesday night, though, there were signs that Reid's comments aimed at ratcheting down the conflict were having an impact. Schumer and Durbin connected over the phone for the first time since the disagreement emerged and Schumer's spokesman said "regardless, Sen. Schumer considers Sen. Durbin a close personal friend."

Durbin and Schumer roomed together for 22 years in a row house on Capitol Hill.