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Retired General to Speak in DC amid Support for Presidential Run

The retired Marine general at the center of a groundswell of support for a presidential run will appear in Washington, D.C., on Friday to discuss events in the Middle East at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

But while the question of his candidacy may come up at the event, strategists warn against reading too much into the lecture.

James Mattis, former commander of U.S. Central Command and distinguished visiting fellow at California's Hoover Institution, has repeatedly made it clear he's not interested in running for office. Regardless, a grassroots push to see him make a dark horse bid in November has been gaining steam.

The Daily Beast reported this month that an anonymous coalition of Republican billionaires has assembled to support the logistically challenging prospect of a Mattis candidacy. And in March, GOP strategist and former Jeb Bush national security adviser John Noonan published a treatise in the same publication hailing Mattis as a savior for 2016.

More grassroots efforts, largely promoted and publicized within the military community, have also generated support for Mattis, who was beloved and idolized by Marines. A Mattis for President Facebook page now has more than 4,500 fans, and a sleek new website, Mattisforpresident.com, aims to recruit support for the "unofficial write-in campaign."

But while public figures sometimes use think tank addresses to signal interest in public office -- Florida Sen. Marco Rubio appeared at the Brookings Institution in 2012 to outline his foreign policy position in what was widely viewed as a precursor to his Republican presidential run -- Mattis, as a seasoned military commander, already has his policy bona fides.

"Politicians go to [Brookings and other think tanks] when they want to stake out foreign policy positions," Noonan told Military.com. "General Mattis doesn't need to do that. He already has that label; he already has that expertise."

Rick Wilson, a GOP strategist who has also supported Mattis as an alternative to Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, also cautioned from ascribing a political overlay to Mattis' upcoming appearance at CSIS.

However, he said, the Washington discussion would highlight the general's experience and deep knowledge of Middle East policy amid a 2016 campaign that has largely been "policy-free."

"The imperative of this is relevant and compelling to him and if the landscape looks as if it needs an option that is more serious and more substantive and less risky to the country ... I think the inevitable gravity of the situation we're in right now is why you have a lot of folks encouraging him to get into this race."

In this political season, one lesson has become clear, Wilson said: All bets are off.

Will we see a Mattis candidacy? The answer lies with Mattis himself.

"The group that is trying to encourage him to run will do everything that they can to make it a possibility if he wanted to," Noonan said. "There's a serious effort to draft him. But I think the only people who know the answer to that question are God and General Mattis."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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