Why Republicans love John Kerry

November 29, 2012

The Republican campaign to prevent U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice from becoming the next Secretary of State is in full bloom, with top GOP foreign policy voices and centrist Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) all joining the chorus of criticism over her comments made after the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.


Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. speaks to a rally of recreational and commercial fishermen, Wednesday, March 21, 2012, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

But aside from the foreign policy implications of a potential Rice pick, Senate Republicans have plenty to gain politically by President Obama casting her aside.

Rice is viewed as Obama's most likely pick for Secretary of State, despite the fact that many saw Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) stepping into that role after Hillary Clinton.

If she is not picked, Kerry would be the logical next choice, and that selection would lead to a special election and a potential GOP pickup. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), who just lost reelection, would have a very reasonable chance of winning that special election, despite the state's blue lean. And, yes, Senate Republicans are well aware of that series of  dominoes.

In recent days, Republicans have begun a quiet effort to push Kerry for the job. Collins as well as Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) have all suggested Kerry would be a good pick, with Collins even saying that he would sail to confirmation if selected. "I think John Kerry would be an excellent appointment and would be easily confirmed by his colleagues," Collins said Wednesday.

Barrasso echoed Collins on MSNBC: "If the president wants an easy confirmation hearing and an easy confirmation process, what he would do is nominate John Kerry – who is eminently qualified to be Secretary of State – and I believe he would sail thorough in the nominating process."

Earlier this month, Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) also expressed a preference for Kerry, though neither will have a vote since they are leaving the Senate in January. The same goes for Brown.

A special election in Massachusetts, of course, hardly guarantees a GOP pickup.

This year, Brown ran into a buzzsaw in the form of Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). But, there are plenty of reasons to believe Brown would fare better in a special election. He has won one before (Ted Kennedy's seat in 2010), lower turnout makes an upset more possible, and a crowded Democratic primary could drain resources and damage whoever emerges.

Brown might not be the favorite, but he'd certainly give Republicans a chance at a 46th seat in the Senate -- and improve the party's hopes of winning the majority in 2014.

It's not yet clear that Brown would run, but he hasn't denied interest, and he remains popular -- though less so than before the 2012 campaign. Notably, if Brown ran and won, he would also have to run for a full term in 2014, meaning he would have to wage a fourth high-profile Senate campaign in less than five years. That's a lot.

A lot of pieces need to fall into place before a special election would be called, and none of this is to say that the GOP doesn't actually think Kerry would be a good pick -- or at least a better pick than Rice -- regardless of the politics of his pick. But Republicans seem to be gaining some traction in their efforts against Rice, and if they succeed, they might just reap some added political benefits.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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