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Kerry unlikely to fade into political obscurity

Friends and colleagues said they didn’t see the John Kerry fading into political obscurity like the last Massachusetts politician who ran and lost, Michael Dukakis in 1988.
Kerry Concedes Election To Bush
John Kerry waves to supporters in Boston after his concession speech, Wednesday.Stephen Chernin / Getty Images file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Like many presidential candidates before him, John Kerry must now decide what to do with the rest of his political life.

While he relaxed at his Boston home on Friday, elsewhere friends, colleagues and presidential historians said they didn’t see the Democrat fading into political obscurity like the last Massachusetts politician who ran and lost, Michael Dukakis in 1988.

Instead, they said he would probably take the road less traveled by recent senators who tried and failed to take the White House, and remain a strong voice in Congress on issues he cared about.

“He has a lot to say,” Kerry’s former chief of staff David Leiter said Friday. “Dukakis faded into the sun. I don’t see that in Kerry.”

Dukakis agreed. In a Senate that just lost Democratic leader Tom Daschle in a narrow South Dakota race, Kerry “could become a very strong voice for a strong opposition,” said Dukakis.

“It was a very impressive performance,” Dukakis said of Kerry’s campaign. “I think it’s important for him to build on what he’s done and at the very least to be a major leader in the party and in the Senate.”

Second presidential run unlikely
Most agreed, however, that Kerry was not likely to get another shot at the presidency.

“Nowadays, these election cycles are so excruciating and they last so long, there’s a feeling that there’s a need for a fresh face,” said presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.

History is filled both with senators who came back and those who cleared out.

Hubert Humphrey, who was vice president for one term, beginning in 1965, lost the presidential election to Richard Nixon in 1968 and then won election to go back to the Senate in 1970. He served until he died in 1978.

Humphrey’s run for president in 1960, when he lost the nomination to John F. Kennedy, was “the same kind of tough election campaign that I think Kerry went through,” said Steve Sandell, director of the Humphrey Forum at the University of Minnesota. “It was very tough for him to get over those (primary) defeats, but he was a very resilient guy. It’s a good example for Kerry.”

Kerry’s Massachusetts colleague, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, ran for the Democratic nomination in 1980 and lost, then came back to the Senate to become one of its premier voices.

Perhaps the most vivid comeback was that of Nixon, who, after losing the presidential race to John Kennedy in 1960 and the California gubernatorial race in 1962, delivered the now famous line: “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”

Six years later he became president.

Out of the spotlight
In more recent history, presidential losers have been more inclined to leave politics.

Democrat Al Gore, who lost the 2000 election by a handful of votes, retreated almost immediately into self-imposed exile after his defeat. His vice presidential running mate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, kept that post.

Republican Bob Dole, who resigned from his Senate seat to run for president in 1996, became a television pitchman for Viagra, and is now a Senate husband. His wife, Elizabeth, is a senator from North Carolina.

Dukakis, who was the last Massachusetts Democrat to lose a presidential run, served out his remaining two years as governor, but left the public spotlight for good in 1990 to become a college professor.

Almost immediately after Gore lost, Democrats — including at least a half-dozen in the Senate and House — began jockeying for position, and the 2004 campaign began in earnest a full two years before Election Day.

“In the old days (senators) felt the Senate was the pinnacle of political ambition,” said Kearns Goodwin. “They felt they could make a difference there, there was a great deal of respect and honor to be a senator.”

Now, she said, “they look at each other and think, if he can run for president, why can’t I?”

Kerry has said little publicly about his intentions, except to promise on Wednesday that he would “fight on” in the Senate, where he has served for 20 years.

He is not up for re-election until 2008.