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Replacing Hillary Clinton: 5 top Secretary of State candidates

The former first lady insists she's stepping down next year, no matter who wins in November. Who should succeed her as America's most prominent diplomat?

Hillary Clinton is stepping down as Secretary of State next January, regardless of whether President Obama is sworn in for a second term or Mitt Romney is inaugurated for a first. And it looks like Clinton is going out on a high note, says David Graham in The Atlantic. She boasts "sky-high" approval ratings, was the subject of a flattering "Texts from Hillary" meme (which she very cooly dipped her own toe in), and set the internet abuzz by dancing and drinking beer at a late-night club in Colombia. Really, Graham says, the blazing hot "secretary of cool" will be a hard act to follow. But someone will have to take over at State. Who exactly? A look at five possibilities, if President Obama wins a second term:

1. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.)
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman had hoped to be Secretary of State in Obama's first term, but "lost out to Hillary Clinton and Obama's 'team of rivals'," says Joan Vennochi in The Boston Globe. He's now waging an unofficial but "artful" campaign to get the nod in Obama's second term. As Secretary of State, Kerry would be powerful enough to "stake out personal turf" and bring his own informed viewpoint to the table. He's definitely on Obama's short list, says Leslie Gelb at The Daily Beast. And among the frontrunners, Obama believes "Kerry would travel a lot and successfully, and interfere least with policymaking." 

2. U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice
Rice is "perhaps Clinton's likeliest successor," says The Daily Beast's Gelb. Her "blend of soft and hard line sits well in the Oval Office," and she's close to Obama. Rice is also "a rising star in the U.S. political firmament," says Obadiah Mailafia in Nigeria's BusinessDay. And as a Rhodes Scholar from a family of prominent economists, she would fit right in at Foggy Bottom. Rice is "not shy in playing a role in foreign policy," says Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy. And if Obama taps her, it "would signal a redoubling of the effort toward engagement and international diplomacy."

3. National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon
"Donilon is regarded as the wisest policy and political head" on the short list, says Gelb at The Daily Beast. And he appears to want the job. Sticking to the "carefully established informal rules" of jockeying to win the Secretary of State nod, Donlion is said to have suggested Rice for World Bank president — a "justifiable" recommendation, but also one that would remove a top rival from contention.

4. NSC official Samantha Power
The Irish-born Power first went to work for Obama in 2005, when he was a U.S. Senator. Now a human rights and multilateral affairs director in Obama's National Security Council, Power "could be his next Secretary of State or National Security Adviser," says Cathy Hayes at Irish Central. Power is an expert on, and staunch critic, of genocide, and she is considered a key architect of Obama's Libya intervention. But remember, some conservatives and Israel proponents don't like Power because they consider her pro-Palestinian.

5. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.)
Our favorite dark horse candidate is Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress and the first black congressman from Minnesota, says Global Grind. He hasn't been in Congress all that long — since 2007 — but "Ellison would be an excellent choice, [and] his passion alone warrants him worthy of a candidacy."

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