TAMPA — Paul Ryan was a no-show at the Wisconsin delegation breakfast Thursday. But not a soul seemed disappointed when one of the party's biggest stars bounded in.
Condi Rice brought delegates and supporters to their feet cheering, as she basked in the glory of her well-received speech to the convention Wednesday. Craig Romney, the nominee's son, introduced her, noting her speech had moved him to tears.
The former secretary of state has been as ubiquitous this week as Romney campaign buttons, speaking at delegation breakfasts all over town — sometimes two per day. Speculation about her motives has been rampant since she has long avoided political events.
"There aren't enough exclamation points to say how I'd feel if she ran in 2016," said Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. "Her story (of being raised in the segregated South) is so inspiring. She could have just shrugged her shoulders and accepted mediocrity like others around her probably did."
At the breakfast, Rice touched on the same themes as her convention speech, keeping the discussion on issues rather than attacking Barack Obama.
"This is really an election of consequences because the country is at a crossroads," she said, adding that it's also "a time when the world is in considerable chaos after three great shocks.
"The shock of 9/11 that fundamentally shifted our concept of national security, the shock of the global, financial and economic crisis . . . and . . . the shock of the Arab Spring," she said. "The question is, is the United States of America going to be there to lead in a way that makes certain that when those tectonic plates reshuffle and settle again that they will be in favor of free peoples and free markets."
Since ending her tenure in government in 2009, Rice has been back at her academic perch at Stanford University.
Florida: More praise for Condi Rice
Rice was also the talk of the Florida breakfast, where Rep. Allen West gushed that it was awesome and state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam heaped praise on Rice, saying that she and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton are "pillars of policy that are now missing from this administration."
On the last day of the convention, the Florida delegation also featured homegrown Rep. Connie Mack, who used the opportunity to rally support for his competitive Senate race this fall against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.
Mack, an early endorser of the Romney 2012 candidacy, made clear that if the Republicans wanted to reclaim the Senate in November, they would need to send him to D.C. with the "comeback team" of Romney-Ryan.
"If I win and beat Sen. Nelson — let me tell you why this is important — Harry Reid no longer will control the agenda of the United States Senate," Mack said.
Newt Gingrich was also a headliner and piled more on Reid, reports POLITICO's Jedd Rosche.
"You cannot govern in Washington as a conservative if Harry Reid is the majority leader and you must defeat Bill Nelson as a part of this process," Gingrich said. Gingrich referred to Nelson as "among the most pleasant left-wing Obama Democrats in the country."