WASHINGTON — As President Obama looks to fill Cabinet positions, the spotlight is steadily focusing on longtime Harvard physicist and leading national security strategist Ashton B. Carter, a top lieutenant to the past two secretaries of defense who has influential supporters among both parties in Congress.
According to several knowledgable officials, Carter, 58, has been on the short list to replace Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta when he steps down as planned next year, and his chances have improved with growing signs that another top candidate, former senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican, could face a difficult confirmation process in the Senate.
Carter, whose office said he couldn’t comment, appears to be the favorite of the Pentagon bureaucracy. Over the past two decades, between long stretches at Harvard’s Kennedy School, he has filled various top posts at the Pentagon. There he has earned the nickname “The Deliverer” for expediting the delivery of much-needed equipment to the front lines in Afghanistan.
“Carter is a sleeper brand waiting to hit the market big,” said a top Pentagon official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the search for a new secretary of defense. “He may not have household name recognition in Middle America . . . but he’s got the full mix of talents to be the next secretary. He’s well known for his procurement and budget expertise, and over the years, he’s also developed strong relationships with senior military leaders and the Hill.”
Also said to be under serious consideration is former top Pentagon policy official and Obama campaign ally Michele Flournoy, who if selected would be the first woman to run the Pentagon, as well as former Navy secretary Richard Danzig, another close confidant of the president.
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