Failed Longshot Presidential Candidates Like Michele Bachmann Tend to Disappear

Do you remember Jim Gilmore? Probably not. Failed dark-horse presidential candidates don’t usually make much of an imprint on the nation’s memory. But that doesn’t mean they ceased to exist the day they leave a race. So, what exactly happens to someone—like Rep. Michele Bachmann—once they leave the back corner of the national stage? A lot of the time, their whole political career unfurls, or they seek more lucrative careers in the private sector. See below for recent examples:


Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore answers questions on his blog after formally announcing his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, Thursday, April 26, 2007, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Jim Gilmore

Who? Former Governor of Virginia who ran in the 2008 Republican primaries.

Highlight of his campaign: Announcing his candidacy via webcast. "This is going to be something unique in American politics and something I think is the wave of the future, which is the chance to talk directly to the people as we develop the campaign through the Internet," Gilmore told the Washington Post at the time. While he was right about the power of Internet outreach, he was vastly wrong about his prospects for the executive.

Lowlight: Coining the term "Rudy McRomney" to describe Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Mitt Romney, the Republican frontrunners.

What happened to him: After backing out of the presidential race, Gilmore decided to run for Senate in Virginia. He lost to Mark Warner 65 percent to 34 percent.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Chris Dodd

Who? Senior Senator from Connecticut who ran in the 2008 Democratic primaries

Highlight of his campaign: Appearing on the Daily Show, and comparing the presidential race to then-relevant TV show American Idol.

Lowlight: Receiving zero percent of the vote in the Iowa Caucus.

What happened to him: He’s not doing all that bad, actually. In 2011 he left the Senate to become the chief lobbyist at the Motion Picture Association of America, effectively increasing his salary eightfold.

Republican presidential hopeful and U.S. Rep. Bob Dornan, of California, holds up his wrist watch as he announces it is 12:01pm and time to announce his presidential bid at the birthplace of the Republican party in Exeter, N.H., Saturday, April 15, 1995.(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Bob Dornan

Who? Actor-turned Congressman who ran in the 1996 Republican Primary. (He once punched a fellow Congressman on the House floor.)

Highlight of his campaign: Insisting on showing a photo of a grandchild during a television debate.

Lowlight: This didn’t happen during his run for presidency, but in 1986, as a California Congressman, he did call a Soviet television commentator a “disloyal, betraying little Jew who sits there on television claiming that he is somehow or other a newsman.'' He apologized, saying it was inelegant phrasing, but that type of talk tends to stick with a person.

What happened to him: After failing in the presidential bid, he lost his Congressional seat to a Democrat, Loretta Sanchez, who he claimed won because of votes from undocumented residents. He tried again for Congress in 1998 and 2004.

Republican presidential hopeful Alan Keyes, a conservative commentator, gestures during the Des Moines Register Republican Presidential Debate in Johnston, Iowa, Wednesday, Dec.12, 2007. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) 

Alan Keyes

Who? A Reagan-era Ambassador to the United Nations who ran for president in 1996, 2000, and 2008. We’ll focus on the 2008 run here.

Highlight of his campaign: Interrupting a debate moderator for not calling on him enough to answer questions, saying, “excuse me, do I have to raise my hand to get a question?”

Lowlight: Winning four delegates for the nominating convention (Hey, it’s better than zero.)

What happened to him: He parted with the Republican Party in April 2008, after losing the nomination. He later joined the “birther” movement, filing a lawsuit challenging the President’s citizenship.

Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson starts his New Hampshire campaign for president at a house party in Manchester, N.H., Wednesday, April 4, 2007.(AP Photo/Jim Cole) 

Tommy Thompson

Who? The 42nd Governor from Wisconsin serving from 1987 to 2001, and Republican presidential candidate in 2008.

Highlight of his campaign: In a campaign marked by gaffes and low expectations, there weren’t all that many highlights for Thompson. He did win a little-known straw poll at the Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. But, he came in 6th at the Ames Straw Poll, and shortly thereafter dropped out.

Lowlight: In a 2007 presidential debate, moderator Chris Matthews asked Thompson whether a private employer should have the right to fire a worker for being gay. Thompson responded saying that it should be “left up to the individual business.” He called back into CNN a day later to say that he hadn’t heard the question correctly and that no, there should not be discrimination in the workplace.

What happened to him: Thompson was the Republican nominee in 2012 for the Wisconsin Senate seat, but lost to Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

Republican President Candidate and U.S., Senator Arlen Specter, R-Pa., signs autographs during a campaign visit in Exeter, N.H., Friday, March 31, 1995. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Arlen Specter

Who? Senator from Pennsylvania for 30 years, mostly as a Republican, but finished as a Democrat.

Highlight of his campaign: Though not expected to win, Specter made a splash with his presidential announcement speech, in which he criticized the far right of his party. Example: “When Ralph Reed says a pro-choice Republican isn't qualified to be our President, -- I say the Republican Party will not be blackmailed. I and millions of other pro-choice Republicans -- will not be disenfranchised.”

Lowlight: By attacking the far right of the party, Specter foreshadowed the type of dissatisfaction that would cause him to become a Democrat in 2009 after 44 years as an elected Republican.

What happened to him: Specter’s political career lasted for a long time after his presidential run, winning Senate elections in 2006 and 2010. Due to complications from non-Hodgkins lymphoma Specter died in October 2012.