WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice keeps trying, but she can't put those questions about presidential ambitions to rest.
Rice didn't appear to leave much wiggle room during interviews Tuesday with local newspapers and broadcasters in Salt Lake City.
"Will you run for president?" an interviewer from KUT asked Rice at the end of a brief interview on Iraq and other subjects.
"No," she replied. "That's an easy one."
The Salt Lake Tribune asked Rice what she makes of polls that place her among the top three potential Republican candidates for 2008.
"It's flattering but that's not for me," Rice said. "I know what my strengths are and I know what I want to do with my life and I'm hoping that in the last two and a half years as secretary of state that I can help to advance the president's vision for democracy."
President Bush will leave office after eight years in 2009. The potential Republican field includes governors and senators, although Rice is better known and better liked than most of the hopefuls. She is also sometimes mentioned as a possible vice presidential pick.
Rice was in Utah to address the American Legion's national convention. Her speech was part of a coordinated effort to reframe the Bush administration's campaign against Islamist terrorism five years after the Sept. 11 attacks, and to answer critics of the Iraq war ahead of midterm elections.
Polls show a majority of Americans no longer think Bush made the right decision in leading the Iraq invasion three years ago, and the Republican incumbent is at a low point in his popularity.
For all her protestations about a political bid, Rice sounded as much a politician as diplomat during portions of her American Legion speech and in the seven interviews she gave.
"I'm the chief diplomat, but I do believe I have a role at home too to talk about the policies, to discuss them, to debate them," Rice told the Deseret Morning News. "I have no problem encountering people who disagree and debate them."
Rice has given a string of recent speeches before foreign policy scholars that argue the world cannot afford to lose Iraq to chaos and terrorism, including one in April in Chicago.
She also is sitting for an unusual number of interviews with television stations and other news outlets outside Washington, in hopes of taking the case for perseverance in Iraq directly to local audiences.
The White House has long employed a similar strategy of bypassing the Washington media. It is a somewhat unusual choice for a secretary of state, whose primary duties concern U.S. goals and relations overseas.
Rice's interviews have touched on domestic U.S. politics and concerns, such as questions Tuesday about the political prospects for Utah's Republican governor and an April sit-down with a television station in Steubenville, Ohio, about the future of the steel industry.
Rice has said she intends to return to Stanford University, where she was a professor and provost before becoming Bush's first-term national security adviser. She took over the top diplomatic job last year.
Rice has allowed a rare window into her personal life in the past couple of months, reviving discussion of her political prospects.
The fit, 51-year-old diplomat ran through her daily workout for a series of television spots and allowed a New York Times reporter to sit in as she practiced piano at home with a group of friends.
She added another job possibility in the Tribune interview.
"Back to Stanford and teach and write or become president of the 49ers or something like that because I love sports," Rice said.
Rice missed a chance this year to pursue what she had considered a dream job as commissioner of the NFL, because she did not want to leave her current post so soon.
KTVX-TV asked the lifelong football fan if she has any regrets.
"Just came up a little too early," Rice said of the NFL job. "I had to let that ship come in and leave, I'm afraid. But there are other great sports jobs and after I'm done with this, we'll see what else is out there."