For a career foreign policy wonk, Condoleezza Rice has been spending a lot of time outside her comfort zone lately.
Over the past few years, she's tackled education reform during her show-stealing speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention; immigration, speaking today at an event with a bipartisan task force she serves on; and has made plenty of overtly political moves as a star surrogate for Mitt Romney and female Republicans nationwide.
And this March, Rice will deliver the keynote address for the National Republican Congressional Committee and headline the California Republican Party's spring convention luncheon.
Her calendar is enough to make the casual observer wonder whether the former secretary of state is mapping out her own political future.
But Rice, occasionally called the "Warrior Princess" during her tenure in the George W. Bush White House, is content to be a happy warrior for the Republican Party, her friends and former colleagues said.
"These are not new clues. This is a consistent pattern of helpful behavior toward other Republicans in the cause," Ari Fleischer, who was George W. Bush's press secretary while Rice was his national security adviser, said.
Rice has been racking up the campaign miles since at least 2000, when as candidate Bush's foreign policy adviser, she toured the United States with a group of political spouses (Barbara and Laura Bush, Lynne Cheney, Cindy McCain) for a series of "W Stands for Women" events geared toward female voters.
In the past few cycles, she's been active with ShePAC, a political action committee focused on electing conservative women, and has stumped for candidates such as former House hopeful Mia Love, Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn and, in 2010, California gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman.
Rice has also become more vocal on domestic policy, a departure from her all-foreign-policy palate while in government. She's part of a four-person immigration task force sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank, and has spoken out repeatedly on education reform, including at her 2012 RNC speech, which at the time got tongues wagging about Rice's political future.
"Today, when I can look at your ZIP code and I can tell whether you're going to get a good education, can I honestly say it does not matter where you came from? It matters where you are going. The crisis in K-12 education is a threat to the very fabric of who we are," she said at the Tampa address.
But former NATO ambassador Kurt Volker, who was principal deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs during Rice's tenure there, said Rice isn't taking on domestic issues just for political appearances.
"I think she cares about the things that she cares about," Volker said. "Whether she thinks the best way to advance those policies is to become involved in politics directly herself, or whether to be supportive of those people she thinks can move the ball forward, I really don't know."
Rice also has always had a domestic policy blind spot when it comes to key conservative issues that could prove problematic if she wanted to run for office: her support for abortion rights, which she referred to in a 2010 interview, saying, "I don't think the country is ready for legislation to overturn Roe v. Wade ."
But she sure knows how to raise money. As a top surrogate on Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign, she stole the show at a June 2012 fundraising retreat in Park City, Utah, impressing, among others, GOP donor and former ambassador to Iceland Charles Cobb, who copped to being a longtime Condi fan.
Cobb said that while former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is his top presidential pick in 2016, Rice would be a good running mate. And, he added, if the election becomes focused on the nominees' gender, Rice would be a formidable challenge for Democrats.
"If in fact it turns out that polls show that people are going to vote for [former Secretary of State] Hillary [Clinton] in spite of her record, because of a strong desire for a woman, then I can't think of a better woman for the Republican Party to put up against Hillary," Cobb said.
But all the speculation fails to take one thing into account, Fleischer noted: her seat on the College Football Playoff Selection Committee (Fleischer sees Rice often in this capacity, as he represents the Bowl Championship Series organization). Rice will serve about three years on the commission, which is responsible for picking the four teams to play in the College Football Playoff, beginning after the 2014 regular season.
"That's a huge concrete investment of time," Fleischer said.
Ironically, when Rice, a former Stanford University provost was asked about her credentials for the football gig, she listed attributes suited to a White House hopeful: "I have experience in decision-making under pressure. … When you have to evaluate information, look at it in a variety of ways, working in a team to try to come up with good decision."
That makes sense. While Rice has waved off previous suggestions that she might run for office, she has made her dream job known: NFL commissioner.