Ray Mabus, the Navy Secretary who has been whispered of as an unlikely but possible candidate to fill departing Defense Secretary Robert Gates's shoes, is moving into the lead among some savvy Pentagon handicappers.
Mabus appears to have built up steam from his service as the administration's lead in rebuilding the Gulf states after the BP oil rig exploded. This has given Mabus valuable face time with the president and his advisors. He has demonstrated his ability to manage a crisis and forge a deft political way forward in those poor and troubled states down south. The Navy leader, of course, was governor of one of them -- Mississippi. While that state does not boast a strong governor structure -- the legislature really runs things -- the fact that Mabus has been a governor and proved himself at the Navy and in the Gulf gives him powerful arguments in his favor should he be nominated as defense secretary.
One source with whom we spoke had -- as we did -- largely discounted Mabus when his name was first bruited about. But this longtime Pentagon watcher now believes Mabus is the lead man in the pack. John Hamre is still in the running, but Hamre wants to build a new headquarters for his Center for Strategic and International Studies and has held a public position since the Clinton administration.
Hillary Clinton is still spoken of as possibly the first female to lead the military, but who in their right mind would leave the State Department to oversee the Pentagon's coming budget battles and its politically daunting conduct of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? Clinton is nothing if not a savvy politician. On the other hand, Defense Secretary would be a promotion for Mabus and it would place him higher in the Democratic firmament if he performs well.