TAMPA -- The next time Republicans are searching for a presidential candidate, rest assured: Condoleezza Rice will be a part of that conversation.
Rice's speech Wednesday night at the Republican National Convention was easily the best-reviewed of the week so far and, at times, even seemed to out-hype vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan's keynote remarks.
The former secretary of state used her time on stage to deliver a speech that was at times wonky, at times red meat for the base, and at times personal reflection. It was good without being gimmicky -- a trap other GOP speakers seemed to fall into.
Through it all, the audience was rapt.
And really, it's not all that surprising. Rice's popularity in the GOP seems to transcend whatever reservations exist about George W. Bush's tenure in the White House and her close ties to it. And by delivering a rousing speech Wednesday, she created a new version of Condi that could put some distance between her and that resume.
Towards the end of her speech, Rice even alluded to the idea that she could be president.
"And on a personal note: A little girl grows up in Jim Crow Birmingham – the most segregated big city in America," she said. "Her parents can’t take her to a movie theater or a restaurant, but they make her believe that even though she can’t have a hamburger at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, she can be President of the United States. And she becomes the Secretary of State."
This wasn't thrown into Rice's speech on a whim; these speeches are meticulously combed for their content. And while it could be dismissed as Republicans again seeking to play up the electoral achievements of black and Hispanic members of the party, this seemed to take it a step further.
In other words, it's clear that Rice -- and Republican officials -- are happy to have her name bandied about in the context of future presidential elections.
The question from here is whether she actually wants to be president -- or serve in some other elected position (senator from California, perhaps?).
Rice has made a significant effort to stay in the political game in recent months, and there is clearly a place for her there. A recent Fox News poll in advance of Ryan's selection as vice president showed that Rice was the No. 1 choice for the job, with 30 percent of Republicans picking her, well ahead of Ryan and even Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
Much of that could be attributed to the fact that she had higher name ID than the likes of Ryan and Rubio, but it shouldn't be discounted as a reflection of enthusiasm for her role in the party.
As we've written several times, there were plenty of reasons she wasn't the V.P. pick this time -- not least the fact that she has expressed some pro-abortion rights tendencies and may or may not have voted for President Obama in 2008. Oh, and there's also the matter of her having served as a close adviser to Bush, who Republicans would still like to pretend doesn't exist. Rice was deeply involved in the Bush administration's foreign policy, which even many Republicans now balk at.
But time heals wounds, and parties (and politicians) evolve. The fact is, if Rice wants to run in 2016 or 2020, abortion may not be as huge a hurdle as it once was. And by that time, Rice will only be in her low-to-mid-60s, and Bush and Obama could be a relatively distant memory.
One thing's for sure: the Republican base already liked Rice a lot even before Wednesday night. And on Thursday, they are going to like her even more.
The speech she gave is the kind that keeps politicians in the national dialogue for years to come. It wasn't on the same level as President Obama's 2004 Democratic convention keynote -- which effectively stamped his ticket for the 2008 race -- but it's along the same lines.
Rice has said she's not interested in running for elective office, but things can change, and the will of the masses can be pretty compelling, if in fact a movement materializes in advance of 2016 or 2020.
From there, the question is whether she has the desire to jump into that arena -- an arena, we should note, that is looking very receptive to her.
Mormonism makes a comeback: As we noted late Wednesday, Mormonism has really fallen off the radar of most Americans, despite Romney's nomination for president.
That's about to change.
Paul Ryan and Mike Huckabee addressed Romney's religion in their speeches Wednesday night, urging evangelicals to vote for Christian values rather than for the one man in the race -- Obama -- who is an evangelical. And Thursday, Mormonism is expected to be a significant part of Romney's speech and the night's overall message.
Huckabee, perhaps the preeminent evanglical voice in the GOP right now, offered this: "Of the four people on the two tickets, the only self-professed evangelical is Barack Obama, and he supports changing the definition of marriage, believes that human life is disposable and expendable at any time in the womb or even beyond the womb, and tells people of faith that they must bow their knees to the God of government and violate their faith and conscience in order to comply with what he calls health care. ... I care far less as to where Mitt Romney takes his family to church than I do about where he takes this country."
Ryan added: "Mitt and I also go to different churches, but in any church, the best kind of preaching is done by example."
This is a tough issue for Romney to talk about, given the reservations of some in the evangelical community -- and outside it -- toward the Mormon religion.
Expect this to be a major subplot tonight.
Gallup shows Ryan's favorable rating at 38 percent, with his unfavorable rating at 36 percent.
Obama suggests a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court case.
Obama accuses Romney's campaign of saying it won't let the truth get in the way of its campaign. But Obama also seems to attribute a quote to a Romney adviser that the adviser didn't utter.
A stray gun got left on Romney's plane, but he doesn't appear to have been in any danger.
Sarah Palin says Fox News canceled her interviews on Wednesday night, and she took to Facebook to vent.
House Speaker John Boehner says he "was a mess" during Ann Romney's speech
The Democratic National Convention next week will include one night focused on national security.
Missouri GOP Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin will soon return to the campaign trail.
"Wealth replaces Mormonism as Romney's defining trait" -- Jonathan Martin, Politico
"Debt clock would keep ticking up under Ryan plan" -- Lori Montgomery, Washington Post
"‘Cultural War’ of 1992 Moves In From the Fringe" -- Adam Nagourney, New York Times
"The Last Gasps of the Ron Paul Movement" -- David Weigel, Slate
"On GOP convention floor, location, location, location" -- Michael A. Memoli, Los Angeles Times
"Measuring a Convention Bounce" -- Nate Silver, New York Times