It's Condi Time

During her recent whirlwind trip across Europe, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made headlines at each stop. Wrapped in stylish suits and flashing a carefree grin, the trip was, in many ways, a coming-out party for Rice. To her supporters -- "Condistas" -- it marked the arrival on the international stage of the next president of the United States.

"She has the charisma and the background to carry the banner for the party," said Paul Deland, who runs the Web site condiforpresident2008.blogspot.com with his son.

Deland is one of a number of people trying to persuade or draft Rice, who has so far denied any interest in seeking the presidential office, to run in 2008. Through Web sites, blogs, road trips and conferences, "Condistas" are determined to get her name on the ballot as the GOP's candidate.

The "Draft Condi" movement even includes souvenirs. Do you yearn for a Condi bobblehead? Well, now you can find one.

The Perfect Alternative?

Republican strategists close to the White House, who have taken note of Rice's public denials of interest in running for president, refuse to rule her out as a potential candidate. Some speculate Rice has to say she won't run while acting as secretary of state. For her part, Rice has expressed more interest in becoming the National Football League commissioner.

The rumors over who will run on the Republican ticket center on former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Sen. George Allen of Virginia.

"She clearly would have huge support from the Bushes, who don't really like the other possible candidates," said Larry Sabato, the Robert Kent Gooch Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia.

Prospective Democratic contenders include Sen Hillary Clinton of New York; Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts; Kerry's erstwhile running mate, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina; New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson; Gen. Wesley Clark; Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana; Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin; and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.

"What the enthusiasm about Rice running really says is that Republicans, deep down, realize that there aren't really any other good candidates that could win and have all the elements they want in the next president," Sabato said.

And for many, Rice has breathed a bit of life into the party. Her rock-star appearances in Europe only further enamored her to her faithful flock. The idea of a single, black woman as the Republican candidate for 2008 is a bonus, they say, but has nothing to do with her chances, good or bad. The Europeans even liked her, they add.

"And that's unusual when it comes to American politicians," said Frank Disalle who writes for the blog Condipundit.com.

Indeed, the British press dubbed Rice "the Bette Davis of Diplomacy." The German press settled with describing the former figure skater and aspiring concert pianist as "coquettish." And her speech in Paris was the hottest ticket in town.

The diplomatic tour marked for Rice her first foray onto the international stage as secretary of state. She draped herself in stylish suits, strappy heels, high leather boots and a toothy grin as she visited heads of state from eight European countries. If there is such a thing, Rice became the "it" girl of the GOP when she stepped into Germany in tall black leather boots. Washington Post fashion writer Robin Givhan said the look was something straight out of "The Matrix."

"In general, she looks more polished and, for lack of a better word, fresher," said Givhan, who described Rice's look at an appearance at Wiesbaden as "draped in a banner of authority, power and toughness. She was not hiding behind matronliness, androgyny or the stereotype of the steel magnolia. Rice brought her full self to the world stage -- and that included her sexuality. It was not overt or inappropriate. If it was distracting, it is only because it is so rare."

Crystal Dueker, national co-chair of Americans for Dr. Rice, says she sees Rice as possessing the personality of Margaret Thatcher and the strength and presence of Dwight D. Eisenhower. After debuting with radio ads in Iowa, the group is wrapping up a television commercial that will debut at a conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Sept. 2. The group hasn't decided where it will run the ad and is still collecting funds to buy television time.

Dueker has been traveling the country in her mini Cooper founding local "Condi Clubs." The campaign, she says, is modeled after the "Ike Clubs" that were used to draft Eisenhower in '52. Currently, Dueker claims to have active "Condi Clubs" in nearly every state.

"I see in her a lot of the same elements I saw in Eisenhower while I was doing research for the campaign," Dueker said. "And with him there was a momentum that spread across the country. It was like a tidal wave of support. I believe this can happen with Condi."

What her supporters want is to get the momentum started to put Rice's name on the ballot in primaries across the country even if she won't do it herself.

"Her trip showed that she can do it," Sabato said. "If she ran in 2008, her presence on the ticket would almost feel like a run by an incumbent."

Rice vs. Clinton?

Rice who said in an appearance on ABC's This Week that "I don't have any desire to run for president, I don't intend to, I won't do it," is destined to keep getting asked the question as she makes more appearances overseas.

Dueker's site, which was started by Richard Mason, a Miami physician, is also home to the "Condoleezza Will Lead Us" song, featured on several news programs as well as on Comedy Central's "Daily Show with Jon Stewart." Through the site, the group has sold over 200 T-shirts, bumper stickers and raised funds for the cause. The group has become a 527, a tax-exempt political committee.

And, if the Democrats nominate a woman -- say, Clinton -- Rice is the best person to take on that candidate, according to the "Condistas." The idea of a Rice vs. Clinton race to the White House is enticing to many, explained Sabato.

"She has all the elements needed for a presidential win," said Sabato. "Her supporters see in her a charismatic conservative with great experience and high intelligence. And if Clinton runs, they think Rice will make it an exciting race."

"It's a way of saying we can find a woman, too," said Disalle. "They [Rice and Clinton] are diametrically opposed on a lot of things. So we would be putting forth someone in which voters would have a clear choice. They would know what she stands for and who they are voting for."

A new book coming out in the fall even speculates a Rice vs. Clinton run. For Regan books, Dick Morris and Eileen McGann are penning a book called "Condi vs. Hillary: The Next Great Presidential Race."

But many pundits say all this talk is way too early and any talk of Rice running is political fluff.

"She stepped into the world stage in a major way in Europe," said Sabato. "She has always been popular with the core conservative activist segment of the Republican party and her trip to Europe was a big hit worldwide."

Republicans also see an asset in Rice being a single, black woman. As speculation grows about Clinton's run, Rice supporters say this can only help their chances.

"I think it's going to come down to a Hillary Clinton vs. Rice." DiSalle said. "And Clinton is someone who just has an aura of distrust around her. She's someone that makes you want to check your silverware after she leaves the room. Condi does not have that kind of aura at all."

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