Correction: An earlier version of this piece noted that Hubert Humphrey ran for president in 1976. The reality is more complicated: A draft movement sprung up and Humphrey indicated that he would accept the nomination, but he did not run in any primaries. The language has been updated to reflect that more complex reality.
Mitt Romney on Friday declared his candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat held by retiring Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah).
It might seem like an odd move for someone who ran for president and lost to pick up the baton once again — especially in a different state from the one where he held office previously. Even before Romney announced his candidacy, Utah Republican Party Chairman Rob Anderson blasted the former Massachusetts governor for carpetbagging.
However, Romney is not alone in seeking public office after a defeat on the national stage. Several politicians have sought public office after losing a presidential bid. Whether seeking redemption, pursuing a career of public service they felt was unfinished, or simply being unable to give up the rush of political life, they each suffered momentous defeats only to dust themselves off and get back in the arena — disproving the widespread belief that there are no second acts in politics.
John Quincy Adams: In 1824, Adams won a bitterly contested presidential race against Andrew Jackson. But four years later, Jackson bested him, making Adams the nation’s second single-term president, following his father, John Adams, who lost to Thomas Jefferson in 1800.
Although many found it undignified for a former president to run for a seat in the House of Representatives, Adams disagreed. During his campaign in 1830, he wrote in his diary that “no person could be degraded by serving the people as a Representative in Congress …[Nor] would an ex-President of the United States be degraded by serving as a selectman of his town, if elected thereto by the people.”
Adams, who had served as a U.S. diplomat and a single term as a senator from Massachusetts before his presidency, went on to serve nine terms in the House. During his 17 years in Congress, Adams was a leading voice against slavery. In 1848, he suffered a stroke while on the House floor. He was brought to the speaker’s office (today the Lindy Claiborne Boggs Congressional Women’s Reading Room), where he died two days later.
Hubert Humphrey: When Humphrey mounted his run for Senate in 1970, he, like Adams, was a political giant who had been defeated on the national stage. Humphrey had had a long political career, full of defeats. Although elected to the Senate from Minnesota in 1948, he had unsuccessfully run for president in 1952 and 1960. He entered the White House in 1965, but as vice president to Lyndon Johnson. After Johnson dropped out of the race in 1968, Humphrey took another chance at the top office.
But his candidacy was doomed — Humphrey, wary of primaries after his defeat in 1960, avoided them entirely in 1968. Primary voters overwhelmingly chose candidates with stronger anti-Vietnam War views, and as a result Humphrey’s nomination — made possible only by a selection process still dominated by party insiders — was met with fury and rioting at the convention in Chicago. Humphrey refused to fully abandon Johnson on Vietnam, further fueling the deep divides in the party. Despite these fractures, Humphrey nearly won the popular vote, losing to Richard Nixon by fewer than a million ballots.
When Humphrey’s one-time rival for the presidency, Eugene McCarthy, announced he would not seek reelection to the Senate, he decided to run for McCarthy’s seat.
For Humphrey, a return to the Senate meant no longer having to toe the Johnson administration’s line. While he had supported LBJ’s policies as vice president, his life as a senator allowed Humphrey to return to his liberal roots. He endorsed ideas such as using government assistance to keep unemployment under 3 percent.
Humphrey’s position also allowed him to be a prominent critic of the sitting president — in his case, his former nemesis Nixon — a role Romney might take if elected.
Humphrey never lost his desire to be president — he ran again in 1972 and flirted with a run (as a draft movement sprung up) in 1976 — he, like Adams, remained in a member of Congress until his death in 1978.
Both Adams and Humphrey had deep passion for causes: Adams for the crusade to end slavery, Humphrey for a panoply of liberal economic agenda items. They also, like many other former politicians, had a desire to remain in positions of power. This combination compelled them to return to the legislative branch after serving in the executive.
Unlike Adams and Humphrey, Romney has never served in Congress. And if he were to join them in finding a second political life in Congress, he would be, at 71, one of the oldest freshman senators ever elected. But like Adams and Humphrey before him, he seems to believe he has more to offer through public service and has the willingness to do so.