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For Sen. John Kerry, life seems like audition for secretary of state

By Mark Morgenstein
updated 9:17 AM EST, Fri December 14, 2012
Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, appears to have the inside track to be nominated as secretary of state.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, appears to have the inside track to be nominated as secretary of state.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sen. John Kerry looks like the front-runner to replace outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
  • Senate Republicans have been touting Kerry for that Cabinet post in recent weeks
  • Kerry has a long history of overseas experience, starting with his childhood

(CNN) -- Now that embattled U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice has withdrawn her name from secretary of state consideration, attention is turning toward Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, the other top candidate to replace outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Republicans opposed to a Rice nomination have bandied about Kerry's name for weeks, and Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told CNN that Kerry would be a "popular choice with the Senate."

It's ironic that several prominent Republicans are rallying behind Kerry, just eight years after their party demonized him during his failed 2004 presidential campaign against President George W. Bush.

Kerry remembered that experience in a statement he released about Rice.

"As someone who has weathered my share of political attacks and understands on a personal level just how difficult politics can be, I've felt for her throughout these last difficult weeks, but I also know that she will continue to serve with great passion and distinction," Kerry said.

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The senior senator from Massachusetts is noted for the experience, gravitas and relationship-building skills that could help him succeed as the United States' top diplomat. In his current role as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry has traveled the globe on behalf of the Obama administration to mend frayed relationships. Most notably he has traveled to Pakistan after a series of incidents, including the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, that had set relations back.

World travel is second nature to Kerry. While he was born in Denver, on December 11, 1943, he spent much of his childhood overseas, living in Berlin, then went to a Swiss boarding school at age 11.

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After graduating from Yale University in 1966, Kerry was deployed to Vietnam as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. Kerry served as a gunboat officer on the Mekong Delta, earning the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts.

Upon his return home in the early 1970s, Kerry gained public recognition as the head of the group Vietnam Veterans Against the War and for his anti-war testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Rice vs. Kerry: Weighing the odds

In 1972, Kerry ran his first campaign, a losing effort for a congressional seat in Massachusetts. He eventually entered politics in 1982 as lieutenant governor under Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. Two years later, Kerry won the U.S. Senate seat he has held for five consecutive terms.

The Vietnam experience came back to haunt Kerry during the 2004 presidential election. A Republican-funded group called "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" aired campaign ads accusing Kerry of lying to receive two of his five combat decorations and criticizing his anti-war activism. The incumbent Bush won the Electoral College vote 292 to 252 and racked up 3 million more votes than Kerry nationwide.

After winning his fifth senate race in 2008, Kerry took over the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the next January. And while Kerry has a powerful voice outside the Obama administration in his current role, with Rice out of the running, a path to the Cabinet has one less obstacle for the man Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, jokingly called "Mr. Secretary" last week.

Read more: Rice once looked like shoo-in

Ted Barrett and Jamie Crawford contributed to this report from Washington.

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