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Inside Politics

Presidential losers can come out winners

Stature, profile rise in fight for nomination

By Sital Patel
CNN Washington Bureau

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Clockwise from top left: Al Sharpton, John Edwards, Joe Lieberman and Wesley Clark

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Democrats who ran unsuccessfully for their party's presidential nomination this year walked away from the race with something of a consolation prize -- higher name recognition and a broader platform for their respective agendas.

The race for the Democratic nomination at one point included 10 contenders, all of whom attended debates, raised funds -- to varying degrees of success -- and hit the campaign trail.

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts has secured enough delegates to win the nomination, driving all of his competitors from the field -- with the exception of U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio.

Analysts say all of the White House hopefuls benefited by having a chance to introduce themselves to prospective voters across the country, setting the stage for a future run, more speaking engagements or putting them in position for a Cabinet post should Kerry win the White House.

"It's a good forum to put out your ideas that would otherwise not get heard, on national television," said Amy Walters, political analyst for the Cook Report, an independent, nonpartisan newsletter that analyzes political trends.

"That's a lot of what Kucinich has been about," said Walters. "Talking about the war, trade agreements, health care and his views are certainly different than the other candidates."

Kucinich -- who was once better known as mayor of Cleveland, Ohio when it went into default -- is now in better political standing despite his inability to make headway in the race for the nomination, said Carlos Watson, a CNN political analyst.

"When all is said and done, his standing among progressives is only going to increase, and he'll be a bigger player on Capitol Hill," said Watson.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean once commanded the media spotlight with a strong, innovative campaign that helped elevate him as the frontrunner at one point. While his campaign ultimately crashed, his exposure made a significant impact, and Dean clearly wants to continue influencing Democratic politics.

Dean announced on Thursday the creation of Democracy for America, a group that he said would help mobilize voters.

In a letter to supporters, he described it as "committed to fighting for progressive policies, like health care for all; investment in children; equal rights under law; fiscal responsibility; and a national security policy that makes America stronger by advancing progressive values."

Carol Moseley Braun likely benefited from her campaign run, even though it never won broad support, because it gave her a chance to re-establish her credentials after a shaky term in the U.S. Senate that was sometimes marred by ethical problems. She was the first African-American woman to serve in the U.S. Senate, but was defeated for re-election bid in 1998.

Another benefit from running for the nomination is more opportunities for speaking engagements.

"Al Sharpton can legitimately have a lucrative entertainment career and speaking career," said Watson. "People genuinely find him to be very entertaining, he can be funny and maybe he'll make some money."

Several times during the debates, Sharpton, a reverend and civil rights activist, brought laughter to the podium.

Sharpton, who recently endorsed Kerry's bid for the nomination, said he's now interested in pursuing his "urban agenda" and tackling a radio or cable television show.

In the past, previous candidates Alan Keyes and Jesse Jackson both were offered cable talk shows after the exposure from the campaign trail.

There's also the possibility that the campaign exposure could lead to a high-profile spot in a new Democratic administration.

Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, who were also in the race, could be contenders for Cabinet posts if Kerry wins.

Then there's the vice presidential slot. Edwards' name has been bandied about in that context, along with several others.

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark's public future may be one of serving as a serious foreign policy voice with the national exposure he has enjoyed, according to Watson.

"He might decide that for him it is time now to say I will be involved in politics, but I'm going to go out and make some money, now (that) a national donor base, national profile has been established," Watson said.

For long-time office holders like Democratic Sen. Bob Graham of Florida and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, running for the presidency is almost seen as a natural next step in the evolution of a political career.

"These guys might feel that their lives would be incomplete if they didn't try," said Watson.

Lieberman, the first Jewish presidential candidate, was on the Democratic ticket in 2000 as Al Gore's running mate. Making his own run for the presidency this year seemed like a logical next step.

The bottom line: Vanquished presidential candidates have a way of staying in the political arena.

As an example from the last presidential campaign, one-time White House hopeful John Ashcroft is now the U.S attorney general for the Bush administration.

Lamar Alexander ran for president in 1996 unsuccessfully and is now a U.S. senator for Tennessee. Elizabeth Dole ran in 2000 and also ended up in the U.S. Senate representing North Carolina.

The U.S. Senate is peppered with other lawmakers who tried -- but failed -- to win their party's presidential nomination. Among them: Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania.

"Shoot for the stars, at least if you don't reach it, you can land in the heavens," said Watson.

CNN's Sean Loughlin contributed to this report.


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