Condi could be Republicans’ anti-Hillary in 2008

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 17, 2005

As she tours Europe after her Senate confirmation, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is like a rock star – her every movement, her every meeting covered by an adoring media.

America’s first black female secretary of state is doing in public what she has always done in private – speaking frankly about America’s priorities and the realities of the post-Cold War world.

As she jokes with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, loosening up his dogmatic anti-American policies, lectures Russia about freedom and warns Israel of tough decisions ahead, one thing is obvious:

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A star is being born. Traveling without the entourage customary for secretaries of state, on time, mapping out in advance her first six months of travel, Rice is a new force in American politics.

As the Republican Party casts about for a viable presidential candidate in 2008 to keep Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) out of the White House, attention will inevitably focus on Rice, the woman who may stand between Clinton and the presidency.

Since President Bush’s success in Iraq has laid the basis for negotiation in the Middle East, there is every prospect that Rice may preside over a diplomatic triumph in catalyzing the discussions between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The firm American stand in Iraq will also make more likely success in Korea and Iran, all of which would add to the prestige of Rice.

The political fact is that a Rice candidacy would destroy the electoral chances of the Democratic Party by undermining its demographic base.

John Kerry got 54 percent of his vote from three groups that, together, account for about a third of the American electorate: African-Americans, Hispanics and single white women.

Rice would cut deeply into any Democrat’s margin among these three groups and would, most especially, deny Clinton the strong support she would otherwise receive from each of them.

As a social conservative and deeply religious person, she would face no bar in winning the votes of the Christian right, so crucial to winning the Republican nomination.

Unlike former Republican New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), both of whom could probably win in November, she would be very attractive to the pro-life, anti-gun-control, anti-affirmative-action base of the GOP.

America longs to put the period on the disgraceful chapter in our nation’s history that began when the first slaves arrived at Jamestown, Va., almost 400 years ago.

We also want to send a message to every girl, and every African-American or Hispanic baby, that there is no ceiling and that you can rise as far as your ability will carry you.

The day Condi Rice is sworn in as president, regardless of the fate of her administration, that message and the punctuation of our history of racism will be obvious.

Of course, she isn’t running – nor is there any indication that she is harboring thoughts of a candidacy.

But as her visibility increases, so will her viability. It may just be possible to draft Condi into the race.

A draft-Condi movement seems almost antiquated in this era of ambitious and self-promoting candidates, but it may well fill a deep need in the electorate to vote for someone who is running in response to a genuine call of the people.

Condi Rice is a work in progress. Her rise has been impelled by her merits and achievements rather than any efforts on her part to curry favor in the media.

She is still working and still progressing. But keep your eye on this political star. It is rising and may one day be ascendant.

Dick Morris was an adviser to Bill Clinton for 20 years. E-mail for Dick Morris is