Secretary of State John Kerry?
Helpfully, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), defeated Tuesday by Elizabeth Warren, has told his colleague that he'd make a great secretary of State.
“I think that he has a very good knowledge of world affairs, he’s a real leader on that issue,” Brown said during a campaign debate. “And I looked to his guidance when we were doing the START Treaty, and when we’re dealing with foreign issues."
It's certainly not lost on Brown that a Kerry appointment could be his Plan B for staying in the Senate, if he could overcome the bad electoral karma that saw him lose to Warren by 7+ points. But in a sign that the White House is leaning toward Kerry, they seem to have their own exit strategy.
Obama's first post-election Friday night was spent at a small "social dinner" with Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. Some have pegged Patrick as a potential attorney general should Eric Holder decide to go, but Patrick could also be asked to step in and keep Kerry's seat blue in the event of a special election. He would also make a diversity statement for the Dems in an upper chamber with no African-American senators.
The White House may also feel pretty comfortable with the Democrats' padding in the upper chamber after Tuesday's gain of two seats, assuming Maine Independent Angus King caucuses with the Dems -- a 55-45 majority.
Another top leading contender, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, would only bring up the scandal the administration wants to tamp down during confirmation hearings.
On Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said "absolutely, without a doubt" Rice's part in the Benghazi falsehoods would factor into her fitness for the job.
"I'm not entertaining promoting anybody that I think was involved with the Benghazi debacle. We need to get to the bottom of it," Graham said. "The president has a lot of leeway with me and others when it comes to making appointments, but I'm not going to promote somebody who I think has misled the country or is either incompetent. That's my view of Susan Rice."
Rice may still get a promotion -- and not have to face a gauntlet of senators, as their approval is not needed -- if Obama named her national security adviser.
The Washington Post reported this evening that Obama might take a chance with Rice and Benghazi, and push Kerry toward retiring Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's spot. But how the scandal unfolds now that Congress is back in town could heighten opposition to a Rice confirmation even more.
The Kremlin has chimed in, too, telling the Kommersant business newspaper that the foreign ministry would "much prefer" Kerry in the job as Rice is "too ambitious and aggressive.”
Ironically, Kerry vocally jumped out in defense of his challenger as the Benghazi furor spread in late September.
"I’m particularly troubled by calls for Ambassador Rice’s resignation. She is a remarkable public servant for whom the liberation of the Libyan people has been a personal issue and a public mission," Kerry said in a statement Sept. 28.
If Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood leaves -- and there are mixed signals lately about what was thought to be a sure thing -- the Obama administration will likely want another token Republican for its cabinet, though.
Onetime presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman could fill that bill, bringing his experience as former ambassador to China with him, but it's a pretty key position with which to make a bipartisan statement.
"If people who are involved in reshaping the party put their country first and come up with solutions that first and foremost are right for their country and for people, then the party will do fine," Huntsman said when broadly assessing what's next for the Republican Party.
Other contenders are National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, who is also linked to Benghazi, and former GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.), who endorsed Democrat Bob Kerrey for his failed attempt to return to the Senate last Tuesday.