Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described herself Friday as "mildly pro-choice" and "kind of libertarian" on abortion, and left the door open for a presidential race in 2008.
Rice, who took office Jan. 26 after four years as President Bush's national security adviser, said she "can't imagine" running to succeed her boss and that she is "not trying to be elected." But she said she knows people are talking about the possibility, and did not rule it out when pressed repeatedly. She spoke in an interview with reporters and editors from the Washington Times, and the State Department released a transcript yesterday.
The Republican platform is strongly antiabortion, and abortion opponents play a big role in many primaries. Rice explicated her views when a questioner from the newspaper told her that the written record was murky.
"If you go back to 2000 when I helped the president in the campaign," she said, "I said that I was, in effect, kind of libertarian on this issue. And meaning by that, that I have been concerned about a government role in this issue. I am a strong proponent of parental choice -- of parental notification. I am a strong proponent of a ban on late-term abortion. These are all things that I think unite people and I think that that's where we should be. I've called myself at times mildly pro-choice."
Rice, 50, has been quoted as using the "mildly pro-choice" formulation as long ago as August 1999, in a National Review profile.
Many Republicans have expressed curiosity about her views on social issues as her time in the limelight has expanded and as it became increasingly clear that the early field for 2008 has no obvious Bush successor.
Rice's image-conscious staff has refined the way she is portrayed on television, compared with her predecessor, Colin L. Powell. Instead of taking questions with foreign dignitaries in front of the State Department's glass doors, she appears in the monumental Benjamin Franklin State Dining room, with Corinthian columns and crystal chandeliers. She meets photographers in front of a fireplace that evokes the Oval Office, and has given many more interviews to U.S. and international reporters on overseas trips.
Rice, a former Stanford provost, told the Times that she believes the president "has been in exactly the right place" on abortion, "which is we have to respect the culture of life and we have to try and bring people to have respect for it and make this as rare a circumstance as possible."
"There are a lot of things that we can unite around and that's where I would tend to be," she said. "This should be an issue pretty infrequently because we ought to have a culture that says that, 'Who wants to have an abortion? Who wants to see a daughter or a friend or a sibling go through something like that?' "
Some political operatives relish the idea of Rice taking on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) in 2008. One of the Times questioners said, "You could save us from Hillary."
"Oh, jeez," Rice said when the question was raised. "I'm going to try to be a really good secretary of state. I'm going to work really hard at it. I have enormous respect for people who do run for office. It's really hard for me to imagine myself in that role."
Asked if she would "do a Sherman," or give an unconditional denial, Rice replied, "Oh, that's not fair."