Massachusetts may still be hung over from the exhausting U.S. Senate race that concluded last week, but pundits have already shifted attention to the next election, and in the Bay State, it could be sooner than you think.

With Secretary of State Hillary Clinton set to retire early next year, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry has emerged as one of President Barack Obama's top picks to become the nation's next top diplomat. If Kerry is named Secretary of State, or alternatively Secretary of Defense, Massachusetts will have to hold a special election to fill his seat.

That special election could come as early as next summer, and would be the second such election in three years in Massachusetts. U.S. Senator Scott Brown won the first special election in January 2010 to fill the seat of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy '54-'56. And though Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren defeated the Republican Senator last week, he would enter a second special election contest the clear frontrunner and likely victor.

With millions in leftover cash, high favorability ratings, and widespread bi-partisan support across the state, Brown would be hard to beat. Possible Democratic opponents include Attorney general Martha M. Coakley, who lost to Brown in 2010, Congressman Edward J. Markey, Congressman Michael E. Capuano, former Congressman and UMass Lowell President Martin T. Meehan and Governor Deval L. Patrick '78.

Given Brown's advantage and apparent readiness for a race, Democratic leaders including the president have been increasingly wary of Kerry's appointment, which could mean the loss of a Democratic seat in the Senate.

Rumors have also suggested Patrick, who is a close friend of Obama's and played a large role in the president's re-election campaign, may be in the running for attorney general. Patrick has said he would not leave his current post, even if offered the job in Washington. What he would do in the case of a special election is less certain.