- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The red-and-blue Senate trolley rolled up to the Capitol basement Tuesday, a lone senator in the front seat checking a piece of paper before slipping it back into his jacket pocket.

“Welcome back, Senator McCain,” someone called out.

“Thank you, good to see ya,” came the well-practiced reply as he stepped to the ground.

Then, a more familiar greeting from another senator who had been riding in back.

“John, wait up,” called Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, clapping a big hand on John McCain’s shoulder. The pair conferred quietly as they rode up an escalator toward lunch with their colleagues.

Two failed presidential nominees, minus Secret Service detail or much suspense about their futures, back to the Senate - same as it ever was.

Explicitly or not, Mr. Kerry’s backslap marked Mr. McCain’s induction into an unofficial bipartisan caucus of would-be commanders in chief who fell short of the big prize and landed, humbled somewhat, back where they started.

As Mr. Kerry and other one-time presidential hopefuls know, a seat in the Senate is a comfy consolation. Aides screen your calls, Senate pages bring lunch and at least 17 colleagues now serving know what it’s like to take steps toward White House bids, only to be turned back.

Among them, only Mr. Kerry has walked as far down that road as Mr. McCain. Mr. Kerry captured the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, lost the general election and returned to Washington stripped of all that had come with it. He blended back into the Senate as chairman of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee.

Mr. McCain’s pivot back to life as a senator was abrupt.

Only 24 hours earlier, the Republican had been seated awkwardly next to his former Democratic rival in Chicago, looking out again from a bubble of presidential-level security, surrounded by trappings of a life that might have been his.

Now, the hubbub belonged only to President-elect Barack Obama, who defeated Mr. McCain two weeks earlier in an Electoral College landslide and had invited his vanquished opponent to a bury-the-hatchet meeting. The flashbulbs went off like strobes and media outlets beamed the news around the world.

Back in the clubby Senate, hatchets are presumed buried unless stated otherwise.

But Mr. McCain is still in transition.

He bolted the Republican Party lunch and headed for the elevators back to the trolley. Standing nearby was a clutch of perhaps a dozen reporters and photographers with their backs to Mr. McCain, interviewing Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat.

None of them budged when the senator from Arizona slipped silently by them and into the elevator, alone.

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