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Obstacles hurt Sen. Kerry’s chance at Cabinet

While U.S. Sen. John Kerry, of Massachusetts, lands on a list of people the political world has eyed for Cabinet positions, competition and a lack of experience might lessen Kerry’s chances of landing certain spots in the president’s Cabinet.

Kerry is speculated as a promising candidate for the secretary of state position, which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will vacate at the end of the term.

Kerry, a Vietnam War veteran and the 2004 Democratic Presidential nominee, has been thrown into the ring as a possible candidate for Leon Panetta’s secretary of defense position, as well as secretary of state.

Aaron David Miller, vice president of the Woodrow Wilson Center in D.C. and a former U.S. Middle East negotiator, has extensive experience working closely with various secretaries of state.

He said Kerry’s possibility of obtaining the position could be diminished by Susan Rice, United Nations ambassador for the U.S.

“The odds that he will be the secretary of state are not great,” he said. “Susan Rice is the leading candidate if she can get confirmed, and I suspect that the president —having gone out on a limb and [having] basically told the entire world that he is not going to be pushed around by John McCain — will choose her.”

But recent conflicts in Libya, including the death of Libyan ambassador Christopher Stevens, poses a challenge for Rice, who was attacked politically for mischaracterizing the attack that led to his death.

Boston University professor Thomas Whalen said Rice’s political situation would improve Kerry’s chances.

“She has a big political target painted on her right now,” Whalen, who teaches social sciences, said. “Kerry has spent so many years up front and he knows both sides of the aisle. It would be a much easier confirmation process.”

Miller said there is a laundry list of qualities necessary to make a good secretary of state.

“You have to be tough and at times pretty devious, and finally you need to have what I call the negotiator’s mindset,” he said. “You need to understand how things fit together and you can teach that. That is something intuitive — it is acquired by the way you look at the world and how you figure out relationships with people and how you get people to do things for you.”

If Kerry is not pulled to become the next secretary of state, he still remains a consideration for secretary of defense.

But Whalen said he was skeptical of Kerry’s ability to become an effective secretary of defense.

“It would not be such a great idea considering his background or lack thereof,” he said. “Just with administrating large organizations, he doesn’t have that kind of experience — a better fit, I think, for state department.”

Jodi Seth, a spokeswoman for Kerry, had no comment on which position Kerry could possibly obtain, instead emphasizing Kerry’s enthusiasm for his current position.

“The speculation season is a ginormous waste of time,” she said. “Senator Kerry’s only focus is his job as senior senator from Massachusetts and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and that is not changing.”

Regardless of position, if Kerry lands a Cabinet position, his seat in the Senate will be vacated, leaving Massachusetts in need of a new senator. Massachusetts would again hold a special election similar to the one held two years ago that elected U.S. Sen. Scott Brown.

Miller said a special election would see Brown running again, and the odds of an election shifting the current balance in the Senate are slim.

“Since the Democrats picked up a few more seats, it wouldn’t make that much difference,” he said. “And Scott Brown’s defeat would add to it.”

Whalen said Massachusetts would likely remain completely blue within the Senate.

“The Republicans don’t have a very deep bench here,” he said. “Everything would come down to what Scott Brown’s intentions are, but still, it is a Democratic state. If they get the vote out as was the case a few weeks ago, I think that Democrats should be reasonably confident.”

Whalen also said there were a few other possible candidates for the seat, including Mass. Attorney General Martha Coakley.

“She might want to throw her hat in the ring here to make a comeback,” he said.

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