Kerry and McCain, defeated presidential candidates who returned to the Senate, have joined forces repeatedly during the past few decades. In July 1995, the two decorated Vietnam War veterans provided political cover to President Bill Clinton when he normalized U.S. relations with Vietnam. Clinton had been dogged by questions about his lack of military service.
Kerry, the Yale graduate who enlisted in the Navy, was an appealing presidential nominee in 2004 for his Vietnam War service. Three years after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, national security credentials were critical against Bush.
But Kerry was pounded by the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth, a group that made unsubstantiated claims challenging Kerry's war record of a Silver Star, a Bronze Star for combat valor and three Purple Hearts. His candidacy also was dogged by his anti-war stance in April 1971 when he testified before the committee he would later chair and famously asked, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"
Kerry's move to the State Department will spark yet another special election in Massachusetts — the third Senate contest since a 2010 special election following the death of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in 2009.
Republican Sen. Scott Brown, who won the 2010 special election but lost last month to Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren, is seen as a front-runner on the GOP side if he chooses to run again.
Possible Democratic candidates include Reps. Michael Capuano, Edward Markey and Stephen Lynch, and Ted Kennedy Jr., son of the late senator. Gov. Deval Patrick must name an interim senator to serve until the special election. Former Gov. Michael Dukakis and Victoria Kennedy, Edward M. Kennedy's widow, have been suggested as possible interim senators although Patrick hasn't publicly confirmed any names.
Kerry was in Pakistan last year in the midst of a diplomatic crisis after Raymond Davis, a CIA-contracted American spy, was accused of killing two Pakistanis.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, traveled to Pakistan around that time and recalled Kerry's influence.
"I arrived in Islamabad, I think, five days after Ray Davis had been taken into a jail in the Punjab and was at very real risk of being hauled out of the jail and lynched," Coons said. "Sen. Kerry was about to show up and negotiate on behalf of the administration. And it was clear that both the diplomats and the military folks we met with viewed him as a real man of credibility and experience who was likely to contribute meaningfully to those negotiations."
Davis pleaded self-defense. After weeks of wrangling between the U.S. and Pakistan, he was released in exchange for "blood money" paid to the dead men's relatives.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who likely will take over the chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the high-level relationships that Kerry "built with world leaders will allow him to step seamlessly into the position and to ensure that there is no decline in U.S. leadership on important global issues during a transition."
Donna Cassata can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/DonnaCassataAP