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Where Are They Now?

Looking back at a few candidates for higher office who fell short

Michele Bachmann ran for president but ultimately dropped out and ran for re-election to her House seat. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Michele Bachmann ran for president but ultimately dropped out and ran for re-election to her House seat. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

One of the risks in running for higher office is that it sometimes means giving up a safe seat. 

Sometimes the risk pays off. Other times, it means you’re out of a job. Here’s a look at recent candidates who aimed higher and where they landed.

Former Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich 

paul_presser004_041713Then: The former mayor of Cleveland was a liberal stalwart in Congress for years, and once proposed impeaching President George W. Bush. He ran for president twice, in 2004 and 2008, and both times failed to win a single state in the Democratic primaries.

In 2012, redistricting forced Kucinich into the same district as felllow Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur. During that primary, Kucinich was considered vulnerable and rumors swirled that he was considering a run for Congress from Washington state. Kaptur responded by cutting an ad that compared Kucinich to basketball star Lebron James, who had left the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Miami Heat. Kucinich lost his primary and slammed Kaptur for the nature of her campaign.

Now: The progressive favorite is a regular on the conservative Fox News Channel, where he is a contributor. In 2013, he interviewed Syrian President Bashar Assad. He also runs Kucinich Consulting with his wife Elizabeth.

Former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt

UNITED STATES - MARCH 26: Darrel Thompson, candidate for the DC city council Ward 6 seat, and his former boss and former Majority Leader Dick Gephardt shake hands with local residents outside of Peregrine Espresso on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, March 26, 2014. Gephardt came out to go door to door campaigning with Thompson in advance of next week's election. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Gephardt ran for president in 1988 and 2004. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Then: Gephardt served as a Democratic congressman from Missouri from 1977 to 2005 and was House majority leader from 1989 until 1995, when Republicans took control of the chamber. He subsequently served as minority leader until 2003, when he decided to run for a president a second time.

In his initial run in 1988, Gephardt won the Iowa caucus and South Dakota and Missouri primaries before dropping out of the race due to poor fundraising and a third-place finish in the Michigan caucus. He had the support of many organized labor groups in 2004 but his candidacy fizzled and he placed fourth in the Iowa caucus before dropping out. That summer, the New York Post mistakenly announced that he had been tapped as Democratic nominee John Kerry’s running mate, when in fact it was North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

Now: Gephardt left Congress in 2005 and became a lobbyist, starting the Gephardt Group. Most notably, Gephardt lobbied against a House resolution condemning the Armenian Genocide despite having supported a similar resolution when he was a member.

Former Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann

UNITED STATES - JULY 16: Michele Bachmann, R-MN., campaigns in Ames, Iowa on Sunday, July 17. (Photo By Christina Bellantoni/Roll Call)Then: Bachmann was a firebrand member of Congress who gained attention in 2008 when she said she worried Sen. Barack Obama might have anti-American views. She was a favorite of the tea party movement and promoted the concept of “death panels” during debate over the health care law overhaul.

She parlayed those ideas into a 2012 presidential campaign, where she was initially seen as a strong contender among social conservatives given her opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. She won the 2011 Ames Straw Poll in Iowa, which vaulted her to the top of the field, but flamed out after Texas Gov. Rick Perry jumped into the race. She withdrew after finishing sixth in the Iowa caucus.

Now: Bachmann ran for re-election in Minnesota in 2012, barely holding onto her congressional seat by a 4,298-vote margin. She later chose not to seek re-election in 2014. In August, she disclosed that she is advising Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on foreign policy.

Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole

UNITED STATES - September 2: Former Sen. Bob Dole. R-Kan., jokingly announces he is also running for president, during an event to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Allied Forces Victory in the Pacific and the end of World War II in Washington, Wednesday, September 2, 2015. Although the World War II effectively ended in August, 1945, after Japanese forces surrendered to the Allied Forces, it was on September 2, 1945, that a formal surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay occurred aboard the USS Missouri, that officially ended the war. Then President Harry Truman declared September 2 to be V-J Day, or Victory over Japan Day. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)Then: By the time he became the Republican presidential nominee in 1996, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole had been a vice presidential pick for President Gerald Ford in 1976 and an unsuccessful candidate for the GOP nomination in 1980 and 1988, losing to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush respectively.

After winning the Republican presidential nomination, he retired from the Senate, saying he had “nowhere to go but the White House or home.” Dole went on to lose to the Democratic incumbent, President Bill Clinton.

Now: After losing the presidency, Dole joined the law firm Alston & Bird, and also famously appear in promotions for Viagra, calling it a “great drug.” Dole got involved in the 2016 presidential race, endorsing Jeb Bush, the son of his former rival and slammed Bush’s rival Sen. Ted Cruz, calling him an “extreme conservative.” He was also the only living former Republican president or presidential nominee to attend July’s Republican National Convention where he was given a shout-out by Melania Trump.

Former Delaware Rep. Mike Castle

UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 15: Rep, Mike Castle, R-Del., is recognized by Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., and his wife Annie at reception in Coons' honor in Russell Building. (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call)Then: Castle was an early favorite to replace Joseph R. Biden Jr. in the Senate after Biden became Obama’s vice president. But the moderate Republican was running for the party’s nomination just as the tea party movement was bubbling up. He was shouted down in a town hall for insisting to the angry crowd that Obama was an American citizen. 

Castle would ultimately lose his primary to tea party candidate Christine O’Donnell. O’Donnell, who once talked about her dabbling in witchcraft when she was younger, would go on to lose to Democrat Chris Coons. 

Now: Roll Call caught up with Castle who said that after losing his Senate bid, he mainly focused on serving out his term in Congress and did not initially pursue other prospects. He now works as a lawyer in Delaware for DLA Piper.

Former Nevada assemblywoman Sharron Angle

UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 10: Former Senate candidate Sharron Angle, R-Nev., arrives for the CPAC meeting, held by the American Conservative Union in Washington on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2010. (Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call)Then: In 2010, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was considered vulnerable and under attack by the tea party for being a symbol of what was wrong in Washington. 

Sharron Angle, who had served as a Nevada assemblywoman for four terms, emerged as the winner of the Republican Senate primary and quickly became a headache for the Nevada GOP.

An interview was unearthed in which Angle said of rape victims and abortion that “lemons can be made into lemonade.” She also said, “If this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies,” long before Trump was pilloried for making similar remarks this year. Angle ended up losing to Reid by 6 points that November.

Now: Angle has attempted other runs for office since then. She turned down the chance to run for the House in 2012. In 2016, after Reid said he would not seek re-election, Angle announced that she would challenge Rep. Joe Heck for the Republican nomination. Shortly after announcing, a former GOP official looked to poison the well by recalling a meeting with Republican operatives in 2010 where Angle seemed to believe Social Security monies were literally stored in a “lockbox” in West Virginia. She presently hosts a call-in talk show.

Former Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley


Then: After former Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin decided to retire when his term expired in 2014, Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley, a four-term congressman, was considered a strong recruit. The race was considered one that would lean Democratic for some time.


But Braley faced criticism after video was unearthed of him deriding Iowa’s other senator, Republican Charles E. Grassley, while talking to trial lawyers. Braley said that if Republicans won the Senate majority, Grassley, “a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law,” would lead the Senate Judiciary Committee. Braley later apologized but the gaffe and other missteps contributed to his defeat to Republican Joni Ernst. Furthermore, his old House seat also switched hands, won by Republican Rod Blum.


Now: After losing, Bradley told Roll Call, he focused on finishing out his job and winding down his office. “We did a tremendous amount of constituent services,” he said. He also said he was concerned for his staff and wanted to make sure they landed on their feet. Ultimately, Braley moved to Colorado where he practices law at Leventhal & Puga in Denver.


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