The Massachusetts senator has his sights on replacing Hillary Clinton – and he can expect a smooth ride from his Senate pals
Source: The Guardian
The main beneficiary of Susan Rice's withdrawal from the race for secretary of state is John Kerry, who takes on the mantle of frontrunner for the most prestigious job in the administration – other than the presidency.
While other names will remain in the mix, such as Tom Donilon, the national security adviser, Kerry is the clear favourite to replace Hillary Clinton.
Obama has been slow to name members of his cabinet for the second term and, with Rice withdrawing, he may now opt to begin filling in the posts.
Unlike Rice, who would have faced a turbulent nomination process given the level of hostility towards her in the Senate, Kerry can expect a smoother ride. The Senate remains a club and Kerry is a senior member of it: while he may not be universally popular, he is well enough respected to be confident of a trouble-free passage.
The nominating process is done by the Senate foreign relations committee. As a long-time member and now chairman of that committee, Kerry is well placed – he knows all the members well, and has spent lots of time with them round the world, with the shared camaraderie of having been in the world's troublespots together. (As well as drinks in some of the plusher capitals.)
Senators who expressed opposition to Rice's prospective nomination said publicly they would welcome Kerry and it would look churlish if they were to now turn around and attempt to block him, too.
The Democrats have a majority on the committee, but even the Republicans are likely to support him. John McCain, Rice's main critic, has applied to serve on the committee from January and is a friend of Kerry. The two have worked together on bipartisan measures.
Earlier this month, they demonstrated the ease of that relationship when McCain referred to him as Mr Secretary. Kerry, in a quick riposte, referred to McCain as Mr President. It was a further illustration of the clubby nature of the Senate.
Kerry's chairmanship of the Senate foreign affairs committee has left him well briefed on international matters. He also knows personally a lot more world leaders than Rice does, which could make it easier for him to slip into the job.
One of the biggest criticisms of Kerry, one that contributed to his failed presidential bid in 2004, is his lack of charisma. His appointment would be a safe one. Obama knows what he would be getting, having used him as a special envoy over the last four years to help with tricky situations, such as a sudden deterioration in relations between Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai and the US, and another trip to Pakistan to ask its government for the recovery of the remains of a helicopter used in the killing of Osama bin Laden.
The biggest reason not to appoint Kerry is purely political. The Democrats were both embarrassed and demoralised when they lost a Senate seat in their stronghold of Massachusetts to Republican Scott Brown after the death of Ted Kennedy.
Brown lost to Elizabeth Warren last month but he remains a strong candidate. If Kerry takes the secretary of state job, that will mean another special election in Massachusetts and the risk of another Democratic loss.