Speculators wag tongues over Rice vs. Clinton in '08

Some say Dick Cheney will step down so Condoleezza Rice can step up.
WASHINGTON -- President Condi?
Political speculation starts earlier and earlier these days, but it's particularly strong now as President Bush starts his second term without the usual clear successor.
Condoleezza Rice -- one of Bush's most trusted advisers and now as newly minted secretary of state, arguably the most powerful woman in the world -- is setting GOP hearts aflutter in the wake of her boffo first foreign trip.
Already, many are starting to dream of a Condi Rice-Hillary Clinton smackdown in '08.
"That's how we get our jollies in this town," said Stephen Hess, senior presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution.
Rice's whirlwind trip last week to Europe and the Middle East, where she attempted to mend fences with the French and Germans and reached out to the Palestinians, made her an instant international star.
Continental columnists gushed over her "impeccable grooming," with the French newspaper Liberation commenting that she dresses the way she negotiates -- "seductive, but also no nonsense."
"When has the United States been represented by a very attractive, very articulate, very forceful black woman?" Hess asked. "And when the other fellow looks like [Jacques] Chirac or [Ariel] Sharon, wow, who are you going to look at? This is visual dynamite."
Getting started
There are at least two Draft-Rice groups, one of which recently set itself up as a 527 group to accept donations and says it has an organizer in all 50 states.
"I just think she's great," said Shari Demers, New Hampshire chairwoman of Americans For Rice, who says she's getting 15 calls a day from people who want to sign up.
"She could really unite this country as far as between the races and between the parties," Demers said.
"I know Hillary's going to run, and it's very difficult for a man to run a campaign against a woman. So how perfect -- Condi vs. Hillary."
Fans trade rumors that Vice President Dick Cheney may step down soon to make way for Rice, who could get a jump on the campaign by starting in the White House.
But it's not just grass-roots fans or political junkies. Some of the same buzz is coming from inside the White House, too.
A senior Bush administration official called Rice "a rising star" and termed her efforts in the Middle East "legacy building -- and not just for President Bush."
Putting peace in the Middle East on one's resume means "your name goes to the top of the list," the official said.
Rice laughed off the notion of running for president when asked about the draft movement by BBC interviewer David Frost last week.
"Oh my goodness," she said. "I think no one should count on such things."