WASHINGTON — Mike Huckabee seems primed to be the 2008 version of a perennial political trivia question: Which candidate hung on and on even after the nomination was beyond his grasp?
Remember Jerry Brown in 1992? Bill Clinton trounced him early, but he stayed in through the convention anyway. The roster of wannabes who refused to give up is lengthy: Howard Dean, Bill Bradley, even George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.
"One of the most difficult things for these people to do is to get out," said William G. Mayer, an associate professor of political science at Northeastern University in Boston. "Some guys stay in because they just can't let go."
Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, would have to win virtually every delegate available to overtake Republican front-runner John McCain. Not gonna happen. He insists that he's staying in because he still has a chance: "I hate to leave the courtroom until the verdict's in," he said last week.
He has lots of historical company, and he could even have a political future. It all depends on what he wants, and what fate permits.
Here are categories for past runners-up:
Recently, Huckabee was a guest on two of the most-watched Sunday morning talk shows. When Mitt Romney endorsed John McCain last week, CNN quickly cut to Huckabee, live, for his reaction.
He's in demand, at least at the moment. "Today," said Tobe Berkovitz, the interim dean of communication at Boston University, "Mike Huckabee could get a seat at any Washington restaurant he wants."
Such people often wind up being popular commentators on public policy, such as Bradley, who lost to Al Gore in 2000, or Pat Buchanan, who had a thriving media career before and after he was an also-ran for president in 1992 and 1996.
By winning eight states so far and accumulating 245 delegates to McCain's 942, Huckabee, 52, is well positioned for 2012 should McCain lose, or even 2016, especially since he won this year's Iowa caucus.
"Staying in raises his stature," Berkovitz said. Reagan's near-miss in 1976 gave him a launch pad — and an organization — that made him more formidable four years later.
Gary Hart, a Democratic senator from Colorado who challenged Walter Mondale in 1984, became the front-runner in 1987 before revelations about his private life forced him out of the race.
But they're the exceptions.
More typical was Brown, who first sought the presidency in 1976, won some key states but fell short. His 1980 and 1992 bids were barely noticed, and in '92, he wound up with 596 convention delegates to Clinton's 3,372.
Such battles draw lots of media attention but rarely achieve much. Although Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis compromised on some planks, Jackson lost convention roll calls on other priorities, such as barring any first use of nuclear weapons.
"They lose because they simply don't have the votes. The nominee has the delegates," said Douglas Koopman, a professor of political science at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Both choices were popular at the conventions, where the second-place finishers had hundreds of delegates to cheer.
But hanging on through the primary season also can irritate the presumptive nominee. "The longer Huckabee stays in," said Black of Emory, "the more likely he won't be vice president."
So why do they keep going?
Mayer, the author of a 1999 book on how parties choose nominees, offered a universal motive. The candidate has poured a year or two into this quest. He knows he'll return to a far less exciting life, and as long as his dignity isn't being compromised, he may as well travel the county and enjoy the ride.
Maybe, Mayer said, that's the ultimate motivation for not giving up: "What do they have to lose?"