Who (according to anonymous sources) will be the next Secretary of State?

With Hillary Clinton expected to step down sometime in 2013, Washington is abuzz with speculation about who will be the next Secretary of State. John Kerry (D-MA), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice are the two most obvious candidates, though there are whispers that National Security Advisor Tom Donilon is also under consideration.

So far, the intrigue has been fueled by a series of unsourced quotes from administration officials and Democratic insiders, who appear to be forming ranks around their respective candidates. One source quoted by Politico who is "familiar with the circumstances," reported that Kerry "has the inside track," having worked on President Obama's debate-prep during the campaign.

"Kerry was a very close second the first time around. He wanted it; he had several interviews. There was an assumption that he would get it if Hillary said no," the source said, noting that Hillary will soon be out of the picture. Leslie Gelb, citing insiders, made a similar point in Newsweek back in April, suggesting that Kerry might get the nod because he'd log lots of miles and "interfere least with policymaking." (He also made the case for Rice and Donilon,)

Another anonymous senior State Department official quoted in today's Boston Globe said that Kerry is the favorite in the "water cooler conversation" in Foggy Bottom. "Because of the number of trips he has taken as head of Senate foreign relations he is pretty well known to a number of people and he is very highly regarded. So I think it would be a popular choice," the official said.

Still, others close to the president are betting on Rice. One unnamed insider quoted in the Politico article said that member's of Obama's inner circle "think it's going to be Susan Rice." "If Obama wants to make her secretary," the source said, "he'll get her in." The current U.N. ambassador was perhaps the frontrunner until she went on the Sunday talkshows to relay the administration's account of the deadly Benghazi attack on Sept. 11, which later turned out to be inaccurate. Now, some Democrats fear she could face difficult questions during a Senate confirmation hearing. 

One anonymous advisor quoted in the New York Times went as far as saying Rice had been "crippled" by the Benghazi fiasco. Senator Lindsey Graham's (R-SC) recent comment that Rice's confirmation would be "virtually impossible" has not helped the U.N. ambassador's case.

Kerry's chances may also be looking up now that his absence from the Senate won't cost the Democrats a majority, though there are still questions about who would replace him on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  A Kerry resignation would trigger a special election in Massachusetts, potentially opening up a place for recently-defeated Republican Scott Brown, but that would still leave 53 Democrats in the Senate -- and 54 if the Independent Angus King decides to caucus with the Democrats.

Another reason to think Kerry could have the leg-up on Rice is that some of his former advisors -- including the State Department's chief economist Heidi Crebo-Rediker and Steven Feldstein, director of USAID's Office of Policy -- are already in the administration, though it's not clear how much of a difference this will make.

Finally -- and least expectedly -- the Russians seem to be pulling for Kerry. An anonymous source in the Russian foreign ministry reportedly told Kommersant business newspaper that Moscow would "much prefer" the Massachusetts senator.  According to the source, Rice is considered "too ambitious and aggressive" and would make diplomatic relations between Moscow and Washington "difficult." How much the Massachusetts senator appreciates the support from the Russians is an open question. 

Kerry, for his part, told the Boston Globe in June, "I'm doing the job I love as chairman and senior senator...I'm working hard at both, and I'm already preparing to run for reelection" in 2014.

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The best of the world leader congratulations

Most of the congratulations messages sent to Barack Obama from his fellow world leaders this week were pretty perfunctory. (See Angela Merkel, Hu Jintao, or Julia Gillard.) But a few did stand out.

Russia's Vladimir Putin sent a telegram (telegram?) praising Obama for winning "with such a wide margin" and in a comparison that the U.S. president might not welcome, added, “I know not from hearsay how exhaustive and intense the election campaign may be.” Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev couldn't resist getting in one last dig at Mitt Romney, saying he was “glad that the president of a very big and very influential country won’t be the man who considers Russia enemy No. 1.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the United States as the "greatest democracy on Earth" and described the U.S.-Israeli relationship as "rock-solid" in a meeting with Ambassador Dan Shapiro, before offering Shapiro a hamburger.

French President Francois Hollande posted his congratulatory letter to Obama on Twitter, but was then mocked by readers for his poor English grammar after he signed the letter "Friendly, Francois Holland." (This seems a bit harsh.)

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, perhaps hoping his country -- where Obama's initial victory was celebrated as a national holiday -- might get a little more attention from the president in the second term, wrote, "Kenya, as always is proud of our association with you. We look forward to the deepening of relations between our two countries during your second term in office." 

In Britain, there seemed to be a battle between the three major parties to claim a bit of the Obama aura. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron touted the fact that he's on a first-name basis with the president, writing, "Above all, congratulations to Barack. I've enjoyed working with him, I think he's a very successful US president and I look forward to working with him in the future." Labour Leader Ed Miliband, meanwhile, wrote that Obama's victory was built on the desire for a "fairer economy." Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, of the Liberal Democrats, used Obama to take a shot at Labour, saying Obama's reelection proves that voters have "long memories" about who created the financial crisis. 

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at a meeting in Bali, Indonesia, was not in a magnanimous mood, calling the U.S. election a "battleground for capitalists" and mocking the amount of money spent on the campaign.

There's been no reaction yet from Hugo Chávez or the Castro brothers, though the state-run news website CubaSi probably summed up the Cuban government's ambivalent attitude with a headline reading, “U.S. elections: the worst one did not win.” 

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