Mitt Romney is the Republican Party's official presidential nominee, but there were a handful of rivals that competed for the title. For some, like Texas Rep. Ron Paul or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the race likely marks the end of their political careers. Others, such as former Pennyslvania Sen. Rick Santorum or former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, hope to build on their success (or learn from their mistakes) and look forward to taking another shot at the White House.
Pawlenty had the shortest official candidacy even though he'd been prepping for his bid longer than anyone else, save Romney. After a poor showing in an Iowa straw poll, taken months ahead of the state's official January caucuses, Pawlenty pulled the plug on his nascent campaign. Given the topsy-turvy nature of the rest of the race, which featured a new candidate at the top of the polls seemingly week-to-week, who knows what would have happened if he had stayed in. For now, Pawlenty is assisting the Romney campaign and making the rounds giving speeches. He recently said he wouldn't rule out a run for Senate or governor.
It's unlikely Cain will ever again be a candidate for office, but that doesn't mean you've heard the last of him. The Cain train was losing some steam even before a series of sexual misconduct allegations forced the former Godfather's Pizza CEO to halt his candidacy – but there's no doubt that the affable Cain struck a powerful chord within the GOP voting base with his folksy nature, anti-establishment rhetoric and simply crafted 9-9-9 tax reform plan. Even after his own presidential bid ended, Cain was not out of the spotlight for long. He stumped with former-rival-turned-friend Gingrich on the campaign trail and has attempted to mobilize his political celebrity into a king-maker for aspiring congressional candidates. Raising money and picking favorites, 'Cain's Solutions Revolution' promotes his tax plan and serves as a political megaphone for the businessman.
Bachmann, one of the first elected officials to wrap her arms around the insurgent anti-tax, small government Tea Party movement, surprised many when she triumphed in the August Iowa straw poll that sealed fellow Minnesotan Pawlenty's fate. But the congresswoman's candidacy floundered as she made flub after flub on the campaign trail and failed to expand her appeal beyond her narrow base. For now, she's locked in a fierce re-election battle after her district's lines were redrawn making it more favorable for Democrats. Bachmann won't likely stay on the national political sidelines for long though, as she is a cable network regular and prolific fundraiser.
The former Utah governor was fighting an uphill battle by jumping in the GOP race directly from the Obama administration. Huntsman, who stepped down as U.S. Ambassador to China to run, just couldn't shake the image of a moderate – a primary death knell – despite proposing one of the most conservative economic plans in the field. He banked it all on New Hampshire, but his third place finish wasn't enough to keep him moving forward. Just 52 years old, Huntsman would be a likely pick to serve in Romney's state department. And with a change in political winds, it could just be that the country is ready for Huntsman's brand of politics by 2016.
No Republican candidate was more hyped than Texas Gov. Rick Perry. The gun-totin', sermon giving pol had been courting the Tea Party faithful from his gubernatorial mansion in austere Texas. He looked presidential and could raise lots of campaign cash, but carried an everyday appeal. His big 'oops' came during a key debate when he just plain couldn't remember the third government agency he was vowing to cut. Though he powered past the incident to continue in the race it served to knock some of the shine off and he failed to rise to the top of the pack. Still serving as Texas governor, Perry is contemplating running for another term.
As the former Pennsylvania senator will say himself, no one did more with less during the campaign than he did. The least funded, smallest staffed Santorum knocked on countless doors in Iowa to woo the caucus-goers with shoe leather. Once the others fell out of favor, it was the socially conservative Santorum that snatched a narrow (if delayed) win in the Hawkeye State and rode the wave through Super Tuesday and beyond, nipping at Romney's heels and picking up wins in key states throughout the spring. There's no doubt Santorum is seriously eyeing another presidential bid.
The former House speaker may have started down the path to the White House on a lark, to sell books or command an audience, but his commanding debate performances and sharp barbs at the president made him a standout candidate. Though he failed to win any states besides South Carolina and his native Georgia, Gingrich just wouldn't quit – outlasting even Santorum and perhaps his relevance. Gingrich will likely cool his heels for a bit before re-establishing his myriad of lobbying and fundraising organizations that languished during his run.
No candidate had more passionate supporters than Paul, whose legion of young and fervent faithful was legendary. Even though the 76-year-old has stepped back from 'actively campaigning' his supporters have still been turning out. In fact, they've been making runs in states that have already voted but still hadn't selected their delegates. Paul has eschewed the idea of a disrupted convention, but it remains to be seen if his followers will listen. Many saw the libertarian's final bid as a means of setting up his similar leaning son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, up for his own White House run. As for the elder Paul, he declined to run for re-election to the House and may just take a rest from politics for awhile.
Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter.