By Kevin Anderson
BBC News, Washington
Rice insists she is not interested in the presidency
As one website notes, it is three years and 235 days until the next presidential election in the US, and only 52 days into President George W Bush's second term.
But speculation is already reaching a fever pitch about possible presidential candidates in 2008.
The list of possible contenders began almost immediately after Mr Bush won last November.
But this frenzy of political prognostication is being driven by an undeniably intriguing scenario - that pits Senator Hillary Clinton against Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Although Ms Rice has strained to find new ways of saying she is not interested in a bid, the possible presidential match-up has the chattering classes so prematurely worked up that they are having a hard time letting go.
New ways to say no
As if it were not trying enough to prepare for a whirlwind trip across Asia, Ms Rice said "no" on three separate Sunday morning political shows in the US, when asked whether she would run.
"I don't have any desire to run for president. I don't intend to. I won't do it," Ms Rice said on the ABC political programme This Week.
On NBC's Meet the Press, she said: "I don't know how many ways to say 'no' in this town. I really don't."
Hillary Clinton is the Democrat to beat for her party's nomination
She said she planned to return to academic life. Before she became national security adviser during President Bush's first term, she was provost at Stanford University in California.
Or as she recently said at a State Department press conference: "I'm going to try to be a good secretary of state, and then, as I've said many, many times, there's always NFL (National Football League) commissioner."
She is a big fan of American football.
Have her repeated denials discouraged the several websites, blogs and other grassroots efforts to encourage her to run? No.
At Americansforrice.com, Condi fans said: "With the memory of Eisenhower's being 'drafted' for the nomination, we are not deterred."
The website even has its own song: Condoleezza Will Lead Us. Think early 1980s Euro-pop, vaguely Wham-esque.
What touched this off in the first place?
Ms Rice received glowing press after her recent European tour.
And US conservatives are looking for a candidate to counter their arch-nemesis: Hillary Clinton. She is also the source of endless speculation about her presidential ambitions.
There is already a Stop Hillary Political Action Committee, whose founders fear the Republican Party is not taking the threat from the "Hildebeast" seriously enough.
And a member of the editorial board of the Washington Times, which sees itself as a conservative counterbalance to the Washington Post, asked Ms Rice to run to stop Senator Clinton.
She just laughed and said she had no plans to run, but conservatives are determined never to let another Clinton call the White House home.
Hillary the front runner
Senator Clinton leads a field of likely Democrats, beating both former challenger John Kerry and his running mate John Edwards, according to the Marist Poll.
She beats Mr Kerry by 39% to his 21%. A range of Democrats including Senator Joseph Biden, New Mexico Governor Bill Richards and Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack are in a crowded pack of potential candidates with single digit support.
Most political experts will say that at this early stage, these polls measure name recognition more than accurate levels of political support.
On the Republican side, Ms Rice comes in third behind former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Arizona Senator John McCain.
Ask most Americans who they would vote for in 2008, and they are most likely to look at you in bewilderment and ask: "Didn't we just have an election?"
University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato believes all this early presidential speculation is driven largely by journalists in election withdrawal.
Mr Sabato told AFP news agency that Ms Clinton was a more solid bet.
"Hillary Clinton is certainly real - she's the most real candidate on the Democratic side so far," he said. However, he said in a recent look at the party's candidates that he disagrees with Democrats who believe she is impossible to beat.
In contrast, he said talk of a Rice campaign "is cotton candy fluff generated by those of us who pine for the intense days of a presidential campaign that is still three years away".