Spotlight shifts to Sen. Kerry

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is the clear favorite to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with Susan Rice no longer in the running.

While Obama has yet to make a decision on who would replace Clinton, Kerry and Rice had always been seen as the top candidates. With Rice out of the picture, many political observers believe the job is Kerry’s to lose.

“If I were to be in Vegas or at off-track betting or at a cocktail party, I'd say that my sense is that indicators point to him,” said a former Foreign Service Officer who's close to Rice. “The president has known him for a long, long time . . .They've worked together very closely on everything from [nuclear disarmament] to confirmation hearings. They worked closely in the debate prep and so on.”

ABC on Friday reported Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is already making plans to fill Kerry’s Senate seat and has already had a discussion with Vicki Kennedy, the widow of former Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).

ADVERTISEMENT
Kerry is a five-term senator and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who is well-liked in Washington and thought to have the foreign policy experience that would help him excel as the nation's top diplomat.

Other names that have been floated include Obama's National Security Adviser, Tom Donilon, and House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who lost re-election. Some Republicans however have accused Donilon of leaking classified information to the press and Berman's candidacy appears to have been pushed mainly by his allies in Los Angeles.

While Rice would have triggered an epic confirmation battle, Republicans have indicated they would be eager to confirm Kerry, a member of their exclusive club.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told CNN that Kerry would be a “popular choice with the Senate,” and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has repeatedly said that he would prefer to see Kerry nominated for State.

Other prominent Republicans have voiced support for Kerry as well. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told the New York Times that Kerry “would be an excellent appointment and would be easily confirmed by his colleagues,” while Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said Kerry would have “an easy time” in a confirmation hearing.

Kerry’s biggest hurdle to being nominated could be the fact that it would put his Senate seat up for reelection.

Former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), who narrowly lost last month to consumer rights activist Elizabeth Warren, would likely run again and would be the early favorite for the seat.

Kerry has increasingly gained the trust of President Obama. The 2004 Democratic presidential candidate served as the stand-in for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during Obama's debate prep sessions, sparring in intense, hours-long simulations with the president.

Kerry is also seen as someone who could make a smooth transition to the State Department. 

ADVERTISEMENT
He successfully pushed some of the president's foreign priorities on Capitol Hill, most notably the New START nuclear disarmament treaty with Russia in 2010. That treaty involved balancing relations with Russia, energy policy and national security concerns.

“He can speak the language of various agencies,” the former State official said.

And he has built close ties with some of the department's top officials over the years.

“All the ambassadors go through that committee, and all the confirmation-level senior officials,” the source said. “So there is depth there. It's not as if he necessarily walked the halls [of State], but the halls have walked to him. That contact – real contact – over the years is not to be discounted.”

He also was among the first Democrats to come to Rice's defense when Republicans criticized her statements that the attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was because of a protest or demonstration. The administration later acknowledged it had been a terrorist attack.

Kerry quickly issuing a statement in September saying he was “deeply disturbed” by Republican attacks and heralding Rice as “a remarkable public servant.”

The move earned Kerry goodwill with the White House, and his defense of Rice after word floated that the president was considering her for Foggy Bottom was considered particularly gracious given Kerry’s perceived desire to become secretary of State.

Obama gave the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic convention — when Kerry was nominated. The speech was widely considered the launching pad that introduced Obama to the nation.

In that speech, Obama heralded Kerry as a man “who embodies the best this country has to offer.”

“From his heroic service to Vietnam, to his years as a prosecutor and lieutenant governor, through two decades in the United States Senate, he has devoted himself to this country,” Obama said. “Again and again, we’ve seen him make tough choices when easier ones were available.”

Obama has also been vociferous in his praise of Kerry in recent years, hailing him as “extraordinarily constructive and very helpful” during his work to help prod Afghan President Hamid Karzai to accept a new round of voting after widespread concern of election fraud.

Kerry traveled to Pakistan in the aftermath of the Osama bin Laden raid to smooth over relations with government officials angered they had not been informed of the mission, and has made other high profile visits to see troops and allies in Afghanistan and Iraq. Kerry was also pivotal in negotiating the 2010 arms treaty with Russia.

This story was posted at 10:49 a.m. and updated at 12 p.m.