John Kerry, The New Comeback Kid

In his failure to beat President Bush in 2004, Sen. John Kerry was written off by many Democrats for bumbling his campaign and, when he mulled over running again, was pummeled by strategists who said his time was over.

Facing irrelevancy, he could have followed the path of another Massachusetts Democratic nominee, Michael Dukakis and faded away. Instead, Kerry-running for re-election-chose the road of his Senate pal Edward Kennedy, who's become the party's elder statesman despite his 1980 primary loss to unpopular President Carter.

Among his Senate moves, Kerry's taken a lead on pushing for troop withdrawal deadlines in Iraq, championed military pay hikes, promoted action on climate change, with his wife penned an environmental hit, This Moment on Earth, and used his remarkable E-mail list of 3 million addresses to raise $100,000 in April alone for Democratic Senate candidates. It's not been perfect: Recall when he said kids could either work hard in school or "get stuck in Iraq"? Says a friend: "He's a work in progress."

Party strategist Chris Lehane thinks Kerry's comeback is akin to Al Gore's. "The last two nominees have created their own platforms to effect the type of change that they believe in," he says. Former Gore aide Donna Brazile sees a larger story at work: "I am willing to bet that some voters may like to see Kerry reappear on the national stage."

By Paul Bedard