Vice President Rice?

Democrats who think it's going to be a cakewalk into the White House next November had best remember one name: Condoleezza Rice.

John McCain is a formidable candidate in his own right, but if he has the political imagination to do it, he can cause the party of Jefferson and Jackson indescribable angst with Rice as his vice-presidential pick.

Besides being the greatest two-for in GOP history, Rice brings other huge pluses to the decorated Vietnam hero. Indeed, she may be enough to elect the venerable hero/naval aviator.

McCain's troubles with the religious wing of his party could well evaporate with the churchgoing Rice at his side. She solidifies that part of his base overnight.

With Rice on the ticket, the GOP would have somebody to get enthusiastic about. The Secretary of State is immensely popular with Republicans. For a party that up to now has been clueless about how to run against either a woman or a person of color, Condoleezza Rice is pure political gold.

Woe to any Democrat who thinks taking her on in a debate is a sure thing. The woman is tough, fast on her feet and able to give better than she gets. Anyone who has seen her in action testifying in front of a hostile House or Senate committee knows that she will be able to wipe up the floor with a plodding, ordinary pol of a Democratic vice-presidential candidate. Take Rice lightly at your peril.

In the ordinary course of things the ideal vice-presidential candidate is relied upon to carry his or her home state and keep out of trouble. With Condi the GOP gets a lot more. It gets a superstar to match the Democrats' superstars. If it comes to name recognition, glamour and magnetism for conservatives, Condi is dandy. Also, it is a plus for the GOP team that she is a snappy dresser.

Rice's presence on the ticket deprives the Democrats of the we-are-more-diverse-than-thou argument. It makes McCain--whose ethnically diverse family includes an adopted daughter from Bangladesh--an even more attractive candidate for a certain kind of independent voter.

Rice can rightly be attacked for serving Bush and backing an unpopular and disastrous war. But McCain, who is extremely pro-war himself, is not going to select a running mate who is wishy-washy on Iraq. Rice is also said to have done a poor job running the State Department, where morale is supposed to have dropped faster than a subprime mortgage. However, you can put the number of voters who give a rodent's behind about the care and feeding of cookie-pushing diplomats in a phone booth, if phone booths still existed.

With Rice on the ticket the Republicans are freed up to run a much stronger negative campaign against either Clinton or Obama because the Secretary of State provides them with cover against charges of sexism or racism. They would be able to go after Obama's membership in Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ. Its minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., with whom Obama is close, has won himself the militant tag from conservatives because of his association with Nation of Islam leader the Rev. Louis Farrakhan.

They can attack Hillary's experience claims as consisting of her being Bill's wife. They can challenge her boast that she is a strong, independent woman and paint her as a weak, hopelessly-in-love woman under the spell of a man subject not only to "bimbo eruptions" but also eruptions of smarmy deals with shady business figures.

Lastly, Rice is a notorious sports fan with excruciatingly detailed knowledge of much of its arcana. She's often said that her dream job is commissioner of the National Football League; however, in a pinch she would probably settle for Vice President of the United States.

Nicholas von Hoffman is the author of A Devil's Dictionary of Business, now in paperback. He is a Pulitzer Prize losing author of thirteen books, including Citizen Cohn, and a columnist for the New York Observer.

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