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      Kerry, Hagel front-runners to lead State, Defense

      WASHINGTON (AP) - Massachusetts' Democratic Sen. John Kerry, who unsuccessfully sought the presidency in 2004 and has pined to be America's top diplomat, has vaulted to the head of President Barack Obama's short list of secretary of state candidates.

      That's after U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice suddenly withdrew from consideration Thursday to avoid a contentious confirmation fight with Republicans.

      The exit of Rice, and elevation of Kerry, was coupled with the potential for even bolder second-term changes in Obama's national security team. Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, has emerged as the front-runner to serve as defense secretary.

      The possible selection of Kerry and Hagel would put two decorated Vietnam War veterans - one Navy, the other Army - at State and the Pentagon.

      Announcements could come as early as next week.

      (Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)