Perhaps another encouraging example is Joe Biden, who flamed out early in 1988 and then, well, flamed out slightly later in 2008 (at least he made it to Iowa the second time). Encouraging, that is, because Biden’s campaign probably put him on the short list for the second spot on the ticket.
The third example is less successful: Dick Gephardt was a solid candidate in 1988, skipped 1992 and 2000, and then went nowhere in 2004.
And that’s about it. Three candidates — Jerry Brown in 1992, George McGovern in 1984 and Gene McCarthy in 1992 attempted comebacks at the top level long after leaving office; these Bateson class candidates did little to recall their heydays. There’s also Ron Paul, who first ran as a Libertarian in 1988, flirted with a GOP run in 1992, skipped the 1996 and 2000 presidential cycles and then jumped back in for the 2008 and 2012 contests. The only other possible addition is Walter Mondale if one counts his very brief flirtation with a run in 1976; if he counts, he’s similar to Gore. One could also look back before reform and spot Richard Nixon, who skipped 1964, but that case seems very different than what Huckabee would be trying to do.
The two who seem closest to Huckabee, I suppose, are Biden and Gephardt. Biden and Gephardt modestly enhanced their resumes in the intervening years; one could argue that Huckabee’s media ventures count towards that, although it’s probably a stretch. At least the Huck didn’t disappear from the national spotlight in the way that, say, Brown had.
Overall, it’s not really an encouraging story, although there aren’t that many cases. But even more discouraging than the fate of those who tried is probably the missing cases: those candidates who passed the first time, wanted to try again, but found that the parade had passed them by and that they couldn’t put together the resources to even get started. We don’t know who might fall into that category, but it’s a safe bet that at least a few candidates fit.
Does that mean Huckabee shouldn’t be looked at as a viable candidate? I think that would be taking very limited data too far. I’ll just say that the previous record of these candidates suggests that he’s not going to have much of a head start from his 2008 run. If he has a chance, it’s probably because of what he has to offer now, not because of support he’s built over time.