BOSTON (AP) - Massachusetts voters could be looking at yet another special Senate election now that Sen. John Kerry is seen as a lead contender for Secretary of State.
Kerry had long been considered a possible nominee to the post but the decision of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to withdraw her name from consideration on Thursday has propelled Kerry to the top of the list as President Obama fills out his cabinet for his second term.
If he is nominated by Obama and confirmed by his fellow senators as the nation's top diplomat, Kerry would resign the seat he's held for nearly three decades, triggering a special election - the state's third Senate contest since 2010.
There's no shortage of speculation about possible candidates for Kerry's seat, including U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, former Gov. William Weld, Attorney General Martha Coakley, U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano and former gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker.
At the top of the Republican list is Brown, who last month lost the seat he won during the 2010 special Senate election to Democrat Elizabeth Warren, who will be sworn in next month.
In his farewell address to the Senate on Wednesday, Brown didn't directly address the issue, but appeared to leave the door open for another run.
"Depending on what happens, and where we go, all of us, we may obviously meet again," he said.
Coakley, who lost to Brown during the 2010 special election, also hasn't ruled out a run in another special Senate election, saying every contest is unique.
"The dynamic is different, the time is different and if that time comes and there is a seat, I'll rule it out or not," Coakley said. "If I do get in a race, I'm going to do so with a 150 percent, but that's a personal decision that I will make."
During the 2010 special election - prompted by the death of longtime Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy from brain cancer - Gov. Deval Patrick said he would only appoint someone as interim senator if they agreed not to run in the special election, and he appointed former Democratic Party chairman Paul Kirk.
Under current law, if Kerry resigns Patrick would appoint an interim senator to serve until a special election could be held.
Asked recently if he would seek the same promise if Kerry stepped down, Patrick said it was too soon say.
Patrick has said he would prefer a system where he could appoint someone to serve until the next statewide election in 2014, but said there's no appetite on Beacon Hill to change the law.
Even if there is a special Senate election in 2013, the state still faces another regularly scheduled Senate election in 2014, which would be the end of Kerry's current term. That would be the fourth Senate election in Massachusetts in five years.
Kerry has tried to keep a low profile in recent weeks.
On Thursday he issued a statement praising Rice as "an extraordinarily capable and dedicated public servant." Rice withdrew her name after weeks of objections from Republicans to her possible nomination.
Kerry said he's all too familiar with political attacks and said he's felt for Rice these past few weeks. In the 2004 presidential race, Kerry was the subject of unsubstantiated claims by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The group challenged his decorated Vietnam War record.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has said she does not want to continue serving in the post during the second Obama administration.
New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte told the Associated Press on Thursday that Kerry - the current chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - is "certainly qualified" for the post.
"In terms of whether Sen. Kerry has the qualifications for the job, he is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and obviously has been serving in the Senate for a long while and has a depth of knowledge on these issues," the Republican said.
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