Condi's star is rising

The most recent poll by Scott Rasmussen shows Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice moving up from 19 percent of the vote in the 2008 Republican primary to 24 percent. That moves her into second place, right behind former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who continues to lead the pack at 26 percent.

The most recent poll by Scott Rasmussen shows Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice moving up from 19 percent of the vote in the 2008 Republican primary to 24 percent. That moves her into second place, right behind former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who continues to lead the pack at 26 percent.

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who had previously been running second, slipped to 21 percent. Lagging behind were former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) at 7 percent and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.) at 5 percent. None of the others was above 5 percent.

It has been a good month for Rice, even as President Bush has run into a mass of troubles. Her favorability in the Fox News poll tops 70 percent, and her successes in negotiating an extension of American military bases in Central Asia and in working out an accord between Israel and the PLO on the Gaza Strip crossings demonstrated great effectiveness. 

And, as Rice has been moving up, her potential competitors for the GOP nomination have been running into trouble. Giuliani now faces the possibility of an indictment of Bernard Kerik on allegations he took bribes during his tenure as Giuliani’s corrections commissioner, before the mayor named him to lead the Police Department. A high-profile scandal affecting the poster boy of the Giuliani administration will do the former mayor no good. Nor will Rudy’s support for choice on abortion, backing for gun control and support for gay civil unions help him much in the GOP field.

McCain, for his part, seems to be placing himself out of the mainstream of GOP politics, teaming with Virginia’s Sen. John Warner and South Carolina’s Sen. Lindsey Graham in demanding tough legislative controls over interrogation of terrorist suspects, much to the dismay of Vice President Cheney. Already, Rasmussen reports that the Arizona senator is the first choice of those who disapprove of Bush’s handling of the presidency, a poor base from which to seek the Republican nomination. Once again, McCain is proving that he would rather be right than be president and is demonstrating how to accomplish his goal.

Frist has not recovered from his loss of power to the Gang of 14 in the Senate or his overreaching in threatening to use the nuclear option of eliminating the filibuster of judicial nominees. His support of stem-cell research, while commendable, cuts across his efforts to court the religious right. Most of all, the basis of his financial world — his investment in hospital conglomerate HCA Inc. — has come under SEC scrutiny because the senator sold his shares one month before their price dropped 9 percent in one day, based on a warning from the company about potentially weakened earnings. Whether this sale turns out to smack of insider trading or not, the affair may sap his viability as a GOP contender.

And Allen has suffered a loss of prestige with the victory of Democrat Tim Kaine over Republican Jerry Kilgore for governor in his home state after the senator had vigorously backed the unsuccessful GOP contender.

All this inside baseball two years before the start of the campaign may mean little in the end, but it does go to show what might become the future dynamic of the Republican race: Non-candidate Rice scores diplomatic triumphs that raise her support and political attractiveness while the other contenders for the nomination are embroiled in the unseemly art of politics, facing the usual round of negatives, investigations and embarrassments. 

Rice repeatedly denies any interest in running for president but may have to spend the next two years facing a boom in the demand for her to run. The looming threat of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Rice’s excellent performance as secretary of state are kindling a boom for her candidacy akin to those that animated Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1952 run and Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 bid for the Democratic nomination. 

Will Rice eventually be overpowered and convinced to run? I believe that this woman will do her duty to her country, as she always has. If it is clear that only she can defeat Hillary and the others who might be able to do so — Guiliani and McCain — falter early in the process, then she will run. If her supporters build it, she will run.

Morris, a former political adviser to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and President Bill Clinton, is the author of Condi vs. Hillary: The Next Great Presidential Race.