Sen. John Kerry walks past reporters after Tuesday's committee vote. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
The Senate on Tuesday easily confirmed one of its own—Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts—to be the next secretary of state, ending a largely noncontroversial process and kicking off what is expected to be a hotly contested special election for the seat Kerry has held since 1985.
The vote was 94-3 for Kerry at a time when bipartisanship is rarely on display in Washington. Just three Republicans voted against his nomination—Texas Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn and Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe.
Kerry voted "present" on his confirmation. He is set to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is stepping down after four years of service.
Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and the 2004 Democratic nominee for president, has served on the Foreign Relations Committee since his arrival in the Senate and has chaired the committee for the past four years.
Kerry began the hearing process with the backing of senators of both parties, many of whom came together on Tuesday to publicly laud his service.
"Sen. Kerry is uniquely qualified to serve as the next secretary of state," Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said on the Senate floor before the vote, noting Kerry's personal history as the son of a diplomat as well as his deep knowledge of international affairs and his relationships with diplomats.
Menendez is on tap to succeed Kerry as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Earlier Tuesday, that committee unanimously voted to send Kerry's nomination to the full Senate.
Kerry's departure from the Senate is expected to spark a major political fight for his vacant seat in Massachusetts.
Democratic Rep. Ed Markey has already announced his intention to seek Kerry's seat in the special election. Markey has won solid Democratic support from party leaders—and Kerry himself—for his campaign. Party leaders are coalescing around Markey's candidacy in the hopes of avoiding a bitter primary fight ahead of what's expected to be a competitive general special election.
But wide support from Markey may not be enough to keep interested Democrats out of the race.
Fellow Rep. Stephen Lynch is planning to announce Thursday whether or not he will run against Markey in the Democratic primary, spokesman Scott Ferson confirmed to Yahoo News Tuesday. A competitive Markey-Lynch primary could weaken the Democratic winner in a state in which Democrats are eager to build on their recent electoral success.
The party scored a major victory in Massachusetts in 2012 when Democrat Elizabeth Warren ousted Republican Sen. Scott Brown. That race was devoid of major outside spending, as both candidates had agreed to a ban on third-party spending. Markey on Monday called on his potential challengers to agree to the same type of ban.
That is likely to happen if Brown enters the race, as Brown introduced the "People's Pledge" to ban outside spending in 2012 and has expressed interest in running for Kerry's seat.
Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin on Monday revealed plans to set the special election to choose Kerry's successor for June 25 after an April 30 primary.