Sen John Kerry as Next Secretary of State?

After embattled U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice's decision to remove her name from consideration for Secretary of State, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) appears to be the frontrunner to replace outgoing Hillary Clinton.

Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick is preparing to fill Kerry's Senate seat and has held talks with Vicki Kennedy, the widow of former Sen. Edward Kennedy, ABC reported Friday.

Kerry, chairman of the chamber's Foreign Relations Committee, would be a "popular choice with the Senate," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told CNN.

"If I were to be in Vegas or at off-track betting or at a cocktail party, I'd say that my sense is that indicators point to him," a former foreign service officer, who is close to Rice, stated, according to The Hill. "The president has known him for a long, long time ... They've worked together very closely on everything from [nuclear disarmament] to confirmation hearings. They worked closely in the debate prep and so on."

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has publicly said he prefers Kerry as secretary of state. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) have also voiced support for Kerry, a five-term senator.

Rice withdrew herself from consideration Thursday, saying she didn't want a drawn-out, polarizing nomination process over her remarks after the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other employees were killed. She called the violence, which later turned out to be a planned terrorist attack, part of "a spontaneous reaction" against an anti-Islam film produced in the United States.

"Today, I spoke to Ambassador Susan Rice, and accepted her decision to remove her name from consideration for Secretary of State," President Obama said in a statement following Rice's announcement.

Kerry, who was attacked over his war record by the GOP during his 2004 presidential run, promptly praised Rice as "an extraordinarily capable and dedicated public servant."

"I've known and worked closely with Susan Rice not just at the U.N., but in my own campaign for president," Kerry said in a statement. "I've defended her publicly and wouldn't hesitate to do so again because I know her character and I know her commitment ... 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."

In his current role, Kerry has traveled around the world, including to Pakistan, on behalf of the Obama administration, and also served as the stand-in for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during Obama's debate prep sessions.

Kerry is close to some of the department's top officials. "All the ambassadors go through that committee, and all the confirmation-level senior officials," The Hill quoted a source as saying. "So there is depth there. It's not as if he necessarily walked the halls [of State], but the halls have walked to him. That contact – real contact – over the years is not to be discounted."

Apart from Kerry, the names of Obama's national security adviser, Tom Donilon, and House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Howard Berman have also been floated.