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Rice Out As Secretary Of State Candidate; Sen. Kerry The Frontrunner?

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BOSTON (CBS) – U.N. ambassador Susan Rice is officially withdrawing her name from consideration to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.

Rice was considered a top contender for the position before finding herself at the center of a controversy surrounding her account of the attack on the American Embassy in Libya on September 11.

In a statement, President Obama acknowledged that he had “accepted” Rice’s decision to remove her name from consideration, and expressed “every confidence” in her ability to “serve our country now and in the years to come.”

Rice’s withdrawal immediately renewed speculation about Massachusetts Senator John Kerry being the next Secretary of State.

WBZ-TV Political Editor Jon Keller says Sen. Kerry is now seen by most political insiders as the frontrunner for the job.

(Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

(Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Kerry is currently the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

He was also reportedly being considered for Secretary of Defense. But on Thursday, a report by Bloomberg News said former GOP Senator Chuck Hagel had become the frontrunner for that position.

Kerry did issue a statement on Thursday about Rice’s decision, but made no mention of his own plans or ambitions.

“We should all be grateful that she will continue to serve and contribute at the highest level. 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,” the statement said in part.

A month ago, Kerry said his chairman position was his main focus for the time being.

“Senator Kerry’s only focus right now is his job as senior senator from Massachusetts and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee,” Jodi Seth, Kerry’s spokesperson, said in that statement.

Kerry’s current six-year term ends in 2014. If Kerry were to leave the U.S. Senate early, a special election would need to be held to fill his seat.

Gov. Deval Patrick would have to set a date for that election within 160 days of Kerry’s resignation, with party primaries coming before that.

For the Republicans, soon-to-be former-Senator Scott Brown would appear to be the obvious choice.

The Democratic field could include the woman Brown beat in the last Senate special election in 2010, Attorney General Martha Coakley, along with Congressmen Ed Markey, Stephen Lynch, Mike Capuano and Bill Keating.

WBZ-TV Political Editor Jon Keller contributed to this story.

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