Why Condoleezza Rice's RNC speech matters

Many of the black Republicans playing big roles on the national scene are easy to dismiss as either too green (Utah’s Mia Love), opportunistic (Obama backer-turned-opponent Artur Davis) or lacking in seriousness (Herman Cain).

But Condoleezza Rice is none of those things, and that’s why her Wednesday night prime-time speech at the Republican National Convention matters. While the former national security adviser and secretary of state hardly has an unblemished record (she was one of the leading figures advising George W. Bush in the run-up to the Iraq War), she is unquestionably credentialed.

Despite concerns from the party base about her support for abortion rights, Rice is also popular in the GOP (a Fox News poll in July found she was the person Republicans most wanted to see as Mitt Romney’s vice-president) and could have some appeal to minority voters and women who the GOP desperately needs to win in November.

Related: Condoleezza Rice says America’s voice ‘muted’ in world affairs

Rice, unlike those other black Republicans, has more credibility as a speaker in part because she has little to gain from associating with Romney. If the former Massachusetts governor won, it’s very unlikely Rice would be tapped as secretary of state or national security adviser again (And she has said she would not serve in Romney’s cabinet).

And Rice, unlike other former Bush aides, has not spent the last four years attacking Obama on FOX News. For many Americans, Wednesday’s speech will be the first time they’ve really heard from Rice since Bush left office.

The speech comes as Rice is elevating her public profile after three years of focusing on her teaching at Stanford and avoiding the limelight. She has endorsed and appeared at fundraisers for GOP candidates such as Love, and recently accepted membership at Augusta National, becoming one of the first two female members at the famous golf club.

Related: Condi Rice invited to join Augusta National

On Wednesday night, Rice, along with Obama’s 2008 opponent, John McCain, are expected to criticize the president on foreign policy. And they are still the undercard to Paul Ryan, who will make his formal speech accepting the vice-presidential nomination.

But Rice’s speech is one of the rare ones at a convention that could be worth watching. Unlike Ryan, McCain or most Republicans, she has not been strongly anti-Obama from the beginning. In 2008, she wouldn’t say if who she voted for (but implied she supported McCain simply because he is a Republican) and said after Obama’s election, “as an African-American, I’m especially proud.” She has over the last year suggested President Obama has failed to lead on foreign policy, but not exactly detailed how.

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