Draft Rice Group Keeps Focus on Condi

First Lady Laura Bush created some chatter for the 2008 presidential race one day before she left with Condoleezza Rice for a tour of Africa.

“I’d love to see her run,” the first lady said of the secretary of state during a CNN interview aired Jan. 13. “She’s terrific.”

Crystal Dueker of Fargo, N.D., agrees. She has driven her Mini Cooper with “Rice for President” painted on the side to Republican gatherings in Iowa, North Carolina, Nevada and New Hampshire at her own expense.

Rice has said consistently said “no” when asked if she will run for president, including today when asked about Laura Bush’s comments. But some think she will run with a little nudging. Dueker, a founding member of the group “Americans for Dr. Rice,” is all too eager to do that nudging.

“We want to build a stage that she can step up to by 2007,” Dueker said. In other words, they want to draft Rice for the job, she said, using the model of Republicans who drafted World War II hero Dwight D. Eisenhower to run for president in 1952.

In February, “Americans for Dr. Rice” will be at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington; and in March they will be at the Southern Republican Leadership Council in Memphis, Tenn. This past fall, the group raised $4,000 on a Rice for president TV add on New Hampshire’s ABC affiliate during the first episode of the network’s show “Commander in Chief” about the first woman president.

The group hopes to strike at the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll. While not binding, a victory in the August the straw poll is usually an indicator of a candidate’s fortunes in the January Iowa Caucus. A victory could push Rice to formally enter the race, supporters hope.

Rice got 30% of the vote among Iowa Republicans, according to a Victory Enterprise poll in August 2005. She soundly beat presumed frontrunners Arizona Sen. John McCain, with 16% and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani with 15.3%. GOP hopefuls Newt Gingrich, George Allen, Mitt Romney and others were in low single digits.

About 4,000 people in 30 states have volunteered in some capacity for the draft-Rice group, said Jessica Duff, of Washington, D.C., national spokeswoman for the group of volunteers.

“We’re not pushing her,” Duff said. “We just want to make it clear to her that her destiny is obvious. We want to set it up to where she won’t be able to say no.”

A Quinnipiac University Poll in December showed Rice has an approval rating of 61% even when much of the Bush administration was in public approval free fall. That same poll showed President Bush with a 40% approval rating, Vice President Cheney with a 35% approval rating and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld with a 40% approval rating.

“She has done very well in the Gaza Strip, and has put the best face on America all over the world,” said famed political consultant Dick Morris, who with his wife Eileen McGann wrote “Condi vs. Hillary: The Next Great Presidential Race.” “You can have a failed presidency and a successful secretary of state. Look at Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon.”

The premise of the Morris book is that New York Sen. Hillary Clinton is the inevitable nominee and that Rice is the only candidate who can both win the GOP nomination and beat Clinton.

On the issues, Rice opposes gun control, is strong on national security and talks openly about her Christian faith. Meanwhile, she has described herself as “mildly pro-choice,” supporting some restraints on abortions but keeping it legal.

The social implications of a Rice candidacy are phenomenal, breaking almost every political rule regarding race, gender and marital status. The never-married Rice would be the first black and first woman president if draft-Rice group has its way.

As a result, she would likely get a lot of crossover votes from Democrats and moderates in the general election, said Martha Sterling-Golden, curriculum coordinator the Yale University Women’s Campaign School. But she hasn’t proven her self as a politician yet.

“The question is, how good is her common touch in the field? Keep in mind that Rice has never been elected to anything,” Sterling-Golden said. “Hillary Rodham Clinton has been at this game for a long time as a political spouse and now in her own right as a senator.”