Washington Week

Friday Nights on PBS

"Where are they now?" Losing Presidential Candidates Edition

By Dan Cooney

When it comes to the presidential race, there can only really be two finalists for the top job and one ultimate winner. Many leave the campaign trail when they realize that their path to victory is no longer realistic. But leaving the race does not necessarily mean the future is bleak. In fact, many past candidates have used their campaigns as a springboard into other prominent roles.

Some end up as the vice president (George H.W. Bush, Al Gore and Joe Biden). Some end up in cabinet positions. President Obama chose his 2008 primary rival Hillary Clinton to be secretary of State. Bush chose fellow 1988 Republican candidate Jack Kemp to be his secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Others use exposure from their losing presidential campaigns to run for different elected offices. Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander ran for president twice before getting elected to the U.S. Senate in 2002. Some even use one presidential run to set up another -- think Clinton, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry and, going back, Bob Dole.

Yet, others use their failed presidential runs to gain exposure. Mike Huckabee wrote several books before and after his first White House bid in 2008 and hosted a television show on Fox News. Newt Gingrich became a regular contributor to CNN. Steve Forbes wrote several books after his two short-lived presidential runs in 1996 and 2000.

Some candidates were in public life both before and after they ran for president. Jerry Brown served as governor of California for two terms and ran for president three times in 1976, 1980 and 1992. After his 1992 bid ended, he went on to serve as a mayor of Oakland, California Attorney General and another full four-year term as governor. He won a historic fourth term as California’s governor in 2014. The Rev. Jesse Jackson was a prominent civil rights leader before he ran for president in 1984 and 1988. He later served as the "shadow senator" for Washington, D.C., and continued leading his Rainbow PUSH Coalition.

Before serving as vice president and later running for president in 2000 (in case you didn’t hear how that went, let us fill you in), Al Gore represented Tennessee in Congress -- first in the House, then in the Senate. In 1987, at the age of 39, he began his first run for the White House and finished a distant third to Michael Dukakis. After Gore's loss in 2000, he turned his focus toward climate change -- an issue he’s been associated with most of his political career. He was the subject of the Academy Award-winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" and won the Nobel Peace Prize for work on man-made climate change.

Chris Dodd had a prominent career before he began his White House run in January 2007. He was a longtime Democratic U.S. senator representing Connecticut, and served as the general chairman of the Democratic National Committee in the 1990s. After his failed 2008 bid for president, Dodd returned to the Senate and was instrumental in passing a Wall Street reform bill that came to be known as "Dodd-Frank." He decided to retire from Congress in 2010, and pledged "no lobbying" in his post-Senate life. Despite that promise, he became president and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America in 2011.

Now, for every candidate that has seen success after their failed presidential campaigns, there are many who did not cash in on their runs. After her historic 1972 presidential campaign, Rep. Shirley Chisholm returned to a strained and divided House. Before his second run for the White House in 2004, Rep. Dick Gephardt resigned as Minority Leader and decided not to seek re-election to the House. When his presidential bid ended after a disappointing Iowa Caucus finish, Gephardt finished out his House term and started his own lobbying firm.

Many predicted Gary Hart would be the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, but scandal forced him out of both the race and public life. Pat Buchanan worked in both the Nixon and Reagan White Houses and was one of the original hosts of the CNN show "Crossfire" before launching three consecutive presidential campaigns in 1992, 1996 and 2000. He is currently a columnist and regular panelist on "The McLaughlin Group" and an author.

Where will this year's presidential dropouts end up? Will we see a Vice President Martin O'Malley or a Secretary of Defense Lindsey Graham? A new book from one of the former candidates? Only time will tell … stay tuned.

After suspending her 2008 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton served in President Obama's campaign and launched a second White House bid. [flickr / Jonathan Abourbih]
Lamar Alexander went on to serve in the U.S. Senate after losing his White House bid. [Facebook / Lamar Alexander]
California Gov. Jerry Brown made three unsuccessful White House runs. [flickr / Neon Tommy]
After losing the 2000 election, Al Gore won an Academy Award and the Nobel Peace Prize [flickr / Mark Strozier]
Chris Dodd campaigns for the Democratic nomination in 2008. [flickr / Marc Nozell]
Shirley Chisholm during her 1972 presidential campaign. [Library of Congress]
Pat Buchanan became a TV commentator after his failed White House bids. [bbsrock]