- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Let the preening begin.

With the presidential contest set, the also-rans from the primaries are re-emerging: dipping toes into the vice presidential pool, assuming roles as elder statesmen and, in the case of the Republicans, already engaging in a competition to see who can emerge as the conservatives’ political leader.

Mike Huckabee announced he’s forming Huck-PAC, a political action committee to let him keep his hand in electoral politics, beating by a month Mitt Romney, another Republican former candidate, who announced his own PAC last month and then spent Memorial Day weekend stoking vice presidential speculation by visiting Sen. John McCain.

Taking a different approach is former Sen. Fred Thompson, who is writing columns, delivering speeches and setting himself up as the conscience of the conservative movement. Together, the three are setting up quite a little conflict for the heart and soul of the conservative movement even as their candidate, Mr. McCain, battles for the presidency.

The competition for prominence in the field of also-rans is no less intense on the Democratic side, but the methods are rather different. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson are using their years of experience at their day jobs to attack Republicans, defend Democrats and all-around pontificate on the major issues of the day.

Meanwhile, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York will soon rejoin the Senate, and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio already has won his primary, virtually assuring him a sixth term in Congress.

As for their futures, as much depends on how gracefully they exited as on how they acted while in the race.

“The main thing is knowing when to get out in time. Romney, Richardson, Dodd and Biden knew when to get out,” said Eric L. Davis, a professor of political science at Middlebury College, who said those former candidates were helped, or at the very least not harmed, by their showings.

He said they all have future political promise, including the possibility of serving as important members of a president’s Cabinet.

Polls suggest some have a better chance than others of political life after electoral death.

Americans, and Republicans in particular, say Mr. Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, could make a Republican presidential ticket, according to a recent Fox 5/The Washington Times/Rasmussen Reports poll. Asked who should get the Republican running-mate nod, 12 percent of all adults surveyed and 21 percent of self-identified Republicans opted for Mr. Romney. The poll had bad news, however, for Mr. Huckabee, former Arkansas governor: Just 2 percent of both Republicans and all adults said he should make the ticket.

On the Democratic side, a recent Fox 5/The Washington Times/Rasmussen Reports poll says Mrs. Clinton is still the top pick, with 41 percent of self-identified Democrats saying she should be the running mate for Mr. Obama. One-fifth of those polled said she should be a non-ticket “cheerleader for Obama,” and another fifth said she should be a Cabinet pick.

Mr. Davis said the worst off on the Democratic side is John Edwards, the unfortunate two-time loser whose performance this year - he won just 2.7 percent of all Democratic votes cast - dropped him several notches from his 2004 showing, when he won 19.4 percent.

The former North Carolina senator has ruled himself out for a repeat of 2004, when he was Sen. John Kerry’s running mate, though pundits, never ones to be convinced of a “no thanks,” say he’s still poised to be attorney general or take another, similar position.

Among Republicans, Mr. Davis said the losers are Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor whose political strategy backfired dramatically, and Mr. Thompson, who suffered poor reviews of his performance.

Yet the former Tennessee senator already has found a new niche as a column writer and speaker arguing for classic conservative principles.

“In a constantly changing world there are still some unchanging truths. It is when our party has abandoned our principles that we have gotten into trouble,” he told the Pennsylvania Republican State Convention, arguing fealty to the Constitution is still the root of Republicanism.

Of course, it hasn’t not been completely smooth sailing for the would-be senior statesmen.

Mr. Richardson was labeled “Judas” by Clinton ally James Carville after he endorsed Sen. Barack Obama. He and Mr. Biden have figured prominently in Republican attacks on Mr. Obama because both of them have disagreed with their presumptive nominee’s initial readiness to negotiate face to face with enemy leaders such as Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“Well, you know throughout my career, I’ve talked to a lot of bad guys. You know, I have talked to [Cuba’s Fidel] Castro. I think you don’t talk to Ahmadinejad. You talk to some of the moderate clerics,” Mr. Richardson, a former ambassador to the United Nations, said on Fox News last month at the height of the back-and-forth between Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain over such meetings.

More than the others, Mr. Biden and Mr. Dodd are using their committee chairmanships - Mr. Biden leads the Foreign Relations Committee, and Mr. Dodd heads the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee - to drive the Democratic agenda and try to score points against Republicans.

Mr. Dodd has led the Senate’s work on a bill to address mortgage problems, while Mr. Biden has become chief attack dog on Mr. McCain’s foreign policy, delivering a key speech last month criticizing “Bush-McCain saber rattling” and questioning the Republican candidate’s vision of a stable Iraq by 2013.

“There’s a reason John is silent. John does have a plan - the very same plan that President Bush is pursuing: stay,” Mr. Biden said.

Maybe the roughest road of all was traveled by former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel, a two-time loser this year alone. After failing to catch fire in the Democratic primary, he jumped parties, joining the Libertarians, only to lose his bid for his adopted party’s presidential nomination.