Run Condi run

Reality is so passe when it comes to the presidential name game of 2008.

Despite the fact that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has declared that she has no desire to run for president, there are overzealous fans out there who think otherwise. One such bunch is Americans for Rice (americansforrice.com).

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Its members plan to have a showing at the Jan. 16 Iowa caucuses, at the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference in D.C. in February and at the National Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Memphis, Tenn., in March.

Call them Condi-obsessed. They call themselves Condistas — a term that they have argued about amongst themselves as both good and bad, questioning the connotation that ista can set off in people, as in Sandinista (bad) or tourista (good).

They know what her name means — it’s a variation on an Italian musical term, “con dolcezza,” which is a direction to play with sweetness. They know that Rice learned to read music at age 3. They build signs out of lumber about her potential presidency to be plunked down in their front yards. They put her name on their license plates. They wear Condi caps, T-shirts, bumper stickers and buttons.

On their website, they run an online forum in which they debate tough issues — for instance, what a run against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) would be like, or what happens if the left accuses Rice of being a lesbian, or what her middle name is (one contributor suggests that Rice lose her last name altogether and just go by Condi).

Organization is a struggle. They claim to be 4,000 strong, but it’s tough for even them to get a handle on how they came up with the figure. Crystal Dueker, a businesswoman in Fargo, N.D., and Richard Mason, a physician in Miami, created Americans for Rice last January. The pair came together Nov. 14 — coincidentally, Rice’s birthday — to concoct the group.

In the past two weeks, they have hired a spokeswoman, Jessie Duff, a former Marine who works for a nonpartisan D.C. think tank. Duff met Dueker at the CPAC conference in D.C. last year.

The entire effort is a labor of love, even though not one member of Americans for Rice has met her. No one is paid, and all funding comes from volunteers.

But will her avid backers be able to deny that Rice doesn’t want to run? “It’s not what I want to do with my life; it’s not what I’m going to do with my life,” Rice said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in October 2005.

The Condistas don’t worry themselves with minor details. They are framing their campaign on the one for the late President Dwight Eisenhower, who was drafted to run, and are convinced that Rice will step up to the plate.

“Eisenhower didn’t want to run for president,” Duff says.

Of course, Rice has never been the supreme allied commander in World War II, but again, minor details. “The people will empower the position for her,” Duff says. “It will be our mission to show her that the country needs her.”

The group has backed up its talk with significant media buys, running two ads on Rice’s behalf during the initial airing of ABC’s “Commander in Chief” — one in Nashville, Tenn., in September and another in Des Moines, Iowa, in October.

Duff is still rusty on the details of the group — for instance, she had never heard of the catchy Neil Diamond-esque rock song by Tan Sleeve about Rice that the group promotes on its website. (It’s catchy in the way that a bad TV jingle can rattle in your head all day long.) But no worries. What Duff lacks in facts she makes up for in bubbly heartfelt enthusiasm.

“I light up when I talk about this woman,” she says. “The nation won’t be able to deny quality.”

Americans for Rice isn’t alone. In December, Andre Mugnier, a French-born father of two and a marketing consultant in Aptos, Calif., bought the address www.condipresident.com for about $20. On the site, he outlines the details of a Rice run.

“Condimania is upon us,” he says in an e-mail interview. “She could have grown within her assigned black group, paid her dues to Jesse Jackson, but no! She obviously lives in harmony with the principles she believes in.”

He compares her charisma to the likes of Tina Turner and Bob Dylan.

Duff, however, compares Rice to Tiger Woods. “She reminds [people] of someone they know,” she says, or “someone they wish they were. People look at her and identify with her, maybe because she is so pristine or because she is such a radiant star.”