WASHINGTON — For weeks, Lawrence Summers had been considered the leading candidate to succeed Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve chairman.
A renowned economist, Summers built close ties to President Barack Obama when he led the president's National Economic Council in 2009 and 2010. In that role, he helped orchestrate the administration's efforts to combat the financial crisis and the Great Recession.
But on Sunday, Summers withdrew from consideration for the Fed. His withdrawal followed growing resistance from critics, including some members of the Senate committee that would need to back his nomination.
His exit could open the door for his chief rival, Janet Yellen, the Fed's vice chair. If chosen by Obama and confirmed by the Senate, Yellen would become the first woman to lead the Fed.
In the past, Obama has mentioned only one other candidate as possibly being under consideration: Donald Kohn, a former Fed vice chair. But Kohn, 70, has been considered a long shot.
The administration also reached out to former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner early in the process. Geithner said he was not interested in being considered.
Obama is expected to announce a nominee for the Fed chairmanship as early as this month. Bernanke's term ends Jan. 31, 2014.
Some economists said Sunday that they think Summers' exit significantly boosts the likelihood of a Yellen nomination.
"The odds that the president will nominate Janet Yellen are now much higher," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics.
Still, Zandi added, "There is a chance that there is some dark horse candidate, possibly Tim Geithner."
David Jones, chief economist at DMJ Advisors and the author of several books on the Fed, said he saw Yellen's selection as a virtual certainty.
"There is a strong view that making a woman Fed chair is an important step," Jones said. "There is no question that her experience qualifies her for the role."
Summers and his allies had been engaged in an unusually public contest with Yellen supporters, with each side lobbying the administration.
An openly waged succession battle is something that the Fed, which will turn 100 in December, has never before witnessed. The selection of a chairman has typically been a matter handled privately by a president and his senior advisers.
In a statement Sunday, Obama said he had accepted Summers' decision.
"Larry was a critical member of my team as we faced down the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and it was in no small part because of his expertise, wisdom and leadership that we wrestled the economy back to growth and made the kind of progress we are seeing today," Obama said.
Yet Summers faced strenuous opposition from some Democrats, including some on the Senate Banking Committee. Summers alluded to that opposition in a letter he sent Sunday to Obama to formally withdraw from consideration.
"I have reluctantly concluded that any possible confirmation process for me would be acrimonious and would not serve the interests of the Federal Reserve, the administration or ultimately, the interests of the nation's ongoing economic recovery," Summers wrote.