WASHINGTON - Two months into her job as U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice yesterday tried to quash speculation that she has her eye on a bigger prize, vigorously insisting she has no intention of running for U.S. president in 2008.
Ms. Rice, who has become a darling of the Republican Party since starting her new job in January, told ABC television's This Week she is happy with her assignment as America's ambassador to the world -- despite Internet campaigns by "Condistas" pushing for her candidacy.
"I don't know how many ways to say 'no,' so let me just say it. I don't have any desire to run for president. I don't intend to. I won't do it," she told ABC in one of several TV appearance yesterday.
"I won't. How's that? Is that categorical enough?" she said one day before jetting off on her latest trip, a week-long tour of Asia that is to include stops in India, China and Japan.
Her disavowals were unlikely, however, to completely beat back speculation that she might seek to succeed her boss, Republican President George W. Bush, and make history by becoming both the first African American and first woman to run the White House, given the strength of the "draft Condi" movement.
It is still more than three years until the next presidential election, but the talk is already whether Ms. Rice could become the first woman to rule the White House, and whether her Democratic opponent might be U.S. Senator and former first lady Hillary Clinton.
Several Web sites and blogs are promoting a White House bid by Ms. Rice, including www.americansforrice.com and the Web site www.Rice2008.com, "dedicated to generating excitement about the possibility of a run for the presidency by Dr. Condoleezza Rice -- and persuading her to run!" the Web site says.
Meanwhile, among opposition Democrats, Mrs. Clinton has completely dominated the shortlist of potential contenders for the presidency.
"I think she'd be incredibly difficult to beat," Senator Joe Biden told U.S. television of Ms. Clinton last month.
"I think she is likely to be the nominee. She'd be the toughest person. And I think Hillary Clinton is able to be elected president of the United States," said the veteran Democratic lawmaker.
Mrs. Clinton and Ms. Rice finished one and two in a recent poll by Hearst Newspapers of women who respondents thought should run for president.
Neither of the two major U.S. political parties has ever fielded a female presidential candidate. But some pundits say no previous woman contender has had the combination of brains, star power and political savvy of Mrs. Clinton or Ms. Rice.
Mrs. Clinton will have to fight for her Senate seat representing New York again next year. But her job approval rating has increased to 69% from 58% in October, 2002, according to a New York Times poll last month.
She has begun to tailor her political message, peppering statements with talk of morality, sexual abstinence and her religious faith. She has made sizeable inroads even with conservative male voters in her state who were once entrenched opponents.
Mrs. Clinton had never held political office before winning her Senate seat in 2000. She has since become a star player there.
Ms. Rice has never held elected office either, but her backers insist that a woman with her credentials does not need to.