WASHINGTON — Newt Gingrich strode onto the stage with his wife at his side. He warmed up the crowd of conservative activists with a dig at the president about Teleprompters. And then he made a sales pitch for his wife's forthcoming book.
"One of the reasons I asked Callista to come out, I just want to share with all of you, that next Monday, she has a brand new children's book coming out, called 'Sweet Land of Liberty,'" the former Republican speaker of the House of Representatives told the crowd gathered at an event before Thursday night's GOP debate.
In an age where one of the potential presidential contenders can also be a reality television star, keeping a campaign alive — or at least the potential of one, in the case of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin — has become a particularly good way to stay in the limelight. For some of the candidates, it's taken little more than a roller bag and a plane ticket to remain contenders.
And maintaining presidential contender status could be a way to stay in the public eye — with other potential benefits down the road.
Staying in the race might lead to a talking-head gig on television, help sell books, or bring more attention to fringe ideas with a fervent following. After all, only one of the nine people on stage at Thursday's debate will be running for president this time next year. Probably.
"At least six of the nine people are auditioning for either a gig on Fox News or 'Dancing with the Stars,'" said Ana Navarro, a Miami Republican who worked on Hispanic engagement during John McCain's 2008 campaign, and who is backing former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman for president.
"This is the post-2008, politics-as-an-industry phenomenon," she added. "People used to run, lose and disappear. Today, with all these platforms ... a lot of this is about turning themselves into a brand, and them being able to market that brand."
So while the also-rans in Thursday's debate have plenty of reasons for staying in the race, only a few of them involve a realistic bid for president.
Consider former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, whose standings in the polls were so low that Fox News included him only at the last minute. But the libertarian-leaning candidate, who favors legalizing marijuana, had one of the most memorable lines of the debate Thursday night, when he said his neighbor's dogs had "created more shovel-ready jobs than this president."
"It's a sad state of affairs if I somehow catapult into the spotlight because of that joke," Johnson said after the debate. "But I would take it, if that's the case."
Then, he touted his website: "Maybe you'll get on my website and look me over and see if I'm maybe not the real deal."
Even though their odds may be daunting, those with even the longest shots at the presidency hold out hope. Publicly, that is.
"I'm in this race because I still think I can win in this race," Johnson said. "Now, that may just sound terribly outrageous. But with the resources I have, I'm campaigning in New Hampshire, where historically you can go from insignificant to significant overnight with a good showing."
Ron Paul, whose libertarian, anti-war approach and conservative social views have captivated a nationwide fan base and a fundraising juggernaut, made it clear he intends to stick around for as long as possible. And he refused during the debate to suggest which of his fellow Republicans on stage he'd pick as a running mate — a gimmicky question Gingrich called a "Hollywood game."
"It seems like I'm in third place now," Paul said. "I think it would be inappropriate. As soon as — as soon as I'm one of the two top tier, then I will start thinking along that line. But right now, I'm going to defer, and just work very hard, and make sure that I stay in the top tier and then eventually be one of the top two contenders."
Supporters such as David Garrett, a 33-year-old Paul backer from Ellenton, Fla., cited the same polls Paul did for their continued backing.
"The media's trying to portray it as a two-person race, and it's clearly not," Garrett said.
Rick Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, likes to point out that at this point in the 2008 race, the two frontrunners were former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee.
"National polls really don't matter," said Santorum, who in 2006 lost his Senate seat. "What matters is first Iowa, then New Hampshire and South Carolina. That's what matters and we've got six, five months before these elections. We feel like we're very well-positioned, as people learn more about us, to break out of this pack. And we will."
And some, particularly Gingrich, might dispute that they're in the "also-ran" category. Gingrich ignored reporters who asked him after the debate whether he'd consider a vice presidential slot.
Yet Herman Cain, the gregarious former Godfather's Pizza CEO from Georgia, happily considered the idea.
"That's quite a compliment, those that saw something in me in terms of my qualifications and background," he said, "so it was quite a nice compliment."
But Cain, who has seen his "999" flat tax-based economic plan get more attention because of his platform, is also in the book-selling business. The day after the Orlando debate, an email from his campaign noted that collector's box sets of "This is Herman Cain!" are available to contributors.
"For just $150, you will receive a personally signed copy of Herman's memoirs in a beautiful red case with gold trim," the campaign email said. "Because we are only selling a limited amount of these special editions, yours would be a truly unique item for you and your family to treasure for years to come."
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