WASHINGTON - With US President Barack Obama locked in for another four years at the White House, a political guessing game turned on Wednesday to another big Washington question: who will succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state?

Clinton, one of the most popular members of Obama's Cabinet, has said she will step down when the current presidential term concludes at the end of January.

Political analysts have been handicapping the race to succeed her for months, and usually come up with the same short list of potential successors including Democratic Senator John Kerry, UN Ambassador Susan Rice, and National Security advisor Tom Donilon.

But each of these front-runners has drawbacks that may put the State Department out of reach, and Obama's surprise choice of Clinton - his former Democratic presidential rival - for the job in 2008 could signal a willingness to reach out of the box to find America's next top diplomat.

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