It's beginning to look like a pretty good bet that Mitt Romney will run for president in 2016 -- at least, according to all the things he's telling those close to him.
Which puts us in rare political territory. In fact, were Romney to win the presidency in 2016, he would be only the second major-party nominee since the 1800s to lose a presidential race and then come back and win one.
The lone exception? A president by the name of Richard Milhous Nixon, who lost to John F. Kennedy as the GOP nominee in 1960 but returned to win the presidency in 1968. Before him, it was Grover Cleveland, who lost as an incumbent president in 1888 only to be re-nominated and avenge his loss in 1892.
In the intervening years are a whole bunch of former nominees who tried again only to lose -- sometimes badly.
The two parties were especially fond of re-nominating losers in the mid-20th Century. Adlai Stevenson was a two-time loser as the Democratic nominee against Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956, while Thomas Dewey was the GOP nominee and loser in both 1944 and 1948. Similarly, William Jennings Bryan was the Democratic nominee three times, in 1896, 1900 and 1908, and lost each race.
Some others failed to secure their party's nomination when they tried to run again. Former president Teddy Roosevelt tried to wrest the GOP nomination from William Howard Taft in 1912 before running as a third-party candidate and finishing second. Hubert Humphrey lost the nomination to George McGovern in 1972 after losing as the Democratic nominee in 1968. McGovern, for good measure, ran again in 1984, but didn't win a single state.
Smart Politics also points to Al Smith running twice after being the Democratic nominee in 1928, former president Hebert Hoover running again in 1940, and 1940 GOP nominee Wendell Willkie running again in 1944. None of them won their party's nomination.
In other words, only one of the last 10 men to attempt what Romney is doing actually became president. And if you count Bryan's two losses, former nominees are only one for their last 11 in repeat bids. (Cleveland, for what it's worth, is also kind of a special case, given he was a former president, but we digress.)
Going back to the earliest days of our republic, what Romney is doing was extremely common. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson lost to their predecessors (and became vice president) before winning the presidency.
John Quincy Adams lost to James Monroe in 1820 before winning the presidency in 1824, and Andrew Jackson lost to the younger Adams in 1824 before winning in 1828. Eight years later, William Henry Harrison lost in 1836 only to win in 1840.
So basically, this happened a lot in the early 19th Century, once in the late 1800s and only once more since.
But here's one other thing: Nixon lost the 1960 popular vote by less than one point, and Cleveland actually won it in 1888, despite losing the Electoral College. In other words, they were near-miss candidates who probably earned another shot, in the eyes of party supporters.
Romney's 2012 loss -- at nearly four points overall and the Electoral College 332-206 -- while technically one of the closer popular votes in history, wasn't really regarded as much of a near-miss (by everyone except perhaps the Romney campaign).
In other words, it's going to be interesting to see whether Republican voters and donors see fit to give him another shot at the big prize, or they decide that it's time for someone new -- someone with a better chance to actually win.
This post has been updated. While Adams was technically the runner-up in 1820, he never campaigned and Monroe was basically unopposed, with one elector casting a vote for Adams (then the secretary of state) and depriving Monroe of a unanimous win.