What Do Dem Wannabes Want Now?

Donkey (democrats beaten up) with a black eye and leg in a sling wearing a suit over a the capitol dome and US flag
By David Paul Kuhn,
CBSNews.com chief political writer

Some came closer than others, but a year after they belted it out in Iowa, none of the eight Democrats who wanted President Bush's job has it.

Below is breakdown of where the Democrats who never were are now – and where they hope to be in the future. At least one will likely run for president again; another is on primetime television. But they are all hoping not to fade away in 2005.

  • Sen. John Kerry
    The 2004 Democratic nominee is leaving all options open. Kerry has established a political action committee in Boston to continue to push forward his political platform, as well as support Democratic candidates nationwide.

    "He emerges from this in a way that few defeated Democratic presidential nominees ever have," said one veteran Democrat close to Kerry. "In fact you probably have to go back 50 years to find someone who comes out of this in a way that allows that person to be thought of as a serious contender for the nomination the next time.

    "He got so many votes. The race was so close. He clearly has a very substantial fundraising base. He has a lot of assets in this," the Democrat continued, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to talk freely.

    Attorney John Giesser, who advised Kerry in his 1996 Senate reelection campaign, will lead the still-unnamed PAC. Giesser also served as a strategist for the Democratic National Committee during the 2000 and 2004 presidential contests.

    PACs are often harbingers of presidential campaigns. At minimum, they are an effort by politicians to maintain some political capital. Kerry has about $15 million left from the presidential campaign, a small amount of which funded Democrats in the Washington gubernatorial race and Louisiana's runoff elections.

    "I think he is going to play a leadership role in the Senate on major issues… from Iraq to Social Security," the Democrat close to Kerry said. "Come the first of the year, he will speak out strongly and often."

    Already, the Massachusetts senator is planning to visit several Middle East countries next month, including Iraq, where elections remain scheduled for Jan. 30. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, his visit is not necessarily indicative of a man who still wants to be commander-in-chief.

    If Kerry intends to run again the press corps will look to New Hampshire and not Baghdad. Only last week, Kerry was in the key primary state thanking supporters at a private gathering.

    "I think John Kerry naturally has, if he wants it – and he does want it – a leadership role in the country and the party," the Democratic insider said. "And you do exactly the same things at this point to claim that as you would if you were running for president."

  • Sen. John Edwards
    In a few weeks, Edwards will be a senator no more. The most likely 2008 Democratic presidential candidate will lack a pulpit come January.

    So Edwards is job hunting. Duke University has made overtures to Kerry's vice-presidential running mate, according to The Associated Press. Reportedly, Duke officials have been in "informal, low-key" discussions with representatives of Edwards. The North Carolina senator is not saying what he will do.

    "He's has some proposals and he's still weighing them," Edwards' Press Secretary Mike Briggs said.

    Thursday night on CNN's "Larry King Live," Edwards emphasized that his chief concern for now is his wife's health. Elizabeth Edwards has breast cancer and has endured eight rounds of chemotherapy over a 16-week period. She will have surgery in March to remove what cancerous tissue remains. The breast cancer was discovered only days before Election Day.

    After Edwards steps down in January, his family will move to Orange County, N.C. Edwards bought 102 acres in the rural area, not far from Chapel Hill, earlier this year. The North Carolinian is expected to remain largely out of the spotlight until February.

    But come Feb. 5, Edwards will keynote the Democratic Party's annual 100 Club Dinner in New Hampshire, which may be his first stop on the path to a 2008 presidential bid.

  • Former Gov. Howard Dean
    One year ago, the presidential race looked most likely to be Bush vs. Dean. Now, the former Vermont governor may attempt to head the Democratic National Committee. Though the frontrunner, he has yet to announce whether he will campaign for the post.

    On Wednesday, Dean spoke at George Washington University and warned Democrats that they "cannot win by being 'Republican Lite.' We've tried it. It does not work." He said Democrats must "broaden" the debate on moral values to encompass education and health care.

    Dean also told reporters that if he were to head the DNC he would not run for president in 2008. If he does take the DNC job, he will likely have to hand over the reins of his own progressive organization, Democracy for America.

    "If Howard Dean runs [to head the DNC], and I certainly hope he does, he will have my full support," said Steve Grossman, a former DNC chairman who chaired Dean's bid for the presidency. "I will do anything and everything I can to help him."

    But Grossman can only do so much. Democratic insiders remain divided over whether Dean is the right face for the national party. Dean himself will announce whether he will run in the next "few weeks," said his spokeswoman Laura Gross.

  • Rep. Richard Gephardt
    After two failed presidential campaigns and 28 years in Congress, Gephardt will retire at the end of this month.

    "Dick is still formulating what he is going to do," said Democratic strategist Ed Reilly, who has consulted with Gephardt since his first presidential bid in 1988. "I would expect him to continue to be involved in Democratic politics but not as an elected official."

    Thursday night, the Missouri congressman was honored at a $1,000-a-person tribute in St. Louis. Key Democrats from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., were in attendance.

    The dinner raised $1.1 million, which will be used, in part, to fund Gephardt's planned nonpartisan institute to encourage Americans to participate in politics.

  • Carol Moseley Braun, Wesley Clark, Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich

    Wesley Clark is in the Middle East on business. For now, those close to the retired four-star general say he is remaining in the private sector.

    Rev. Al Sharpton has gone Hollywood. He has appeared as a guest star on network sitcoms and hosts his own Spike TV reality show, "I Hate My Job," in which he helps disgruntled workers find their dream jobs. For Sharpton, the presidential campaign was a campaign for national prominence, not the White House. In this fight, he appears to have won.

    Carol Mosley Braun, the only woman to run for president in 2004, remains involved in Democratic politics from her Chicago office. A former ambassador and only the second popularly elected black senator, Braun has not ruled out a return to electoral politics.

    As for Dennis Kucinich, he's still marching to the beat of his own drummer. The Ohio congressman was the most liberal of the Democratic candidates and the last to throw in the towel during the primary race. His goal in the presidential campaign was to motivate the Democrats' progressive wing, and for now he keeps fighting that fight – on Capitol Hill, that is.

    "He will continue to serve in the House," said Kucinich spokesman Doug Gordon. "And he will continue to fight for the things he's fought for, for years – universal healthcare, fair trade practices – and continue to oppose the president and this war."