Washington, Nov 1 : The loser of the looming Barack Obama-John McCain contest is entitled to a consolation prize: An all-expenses-paid, one-way ticket back to the United States Senate.
An Obama loss would shake American politics to its core, but the candidate said that he'd adapt to life as a high-profile foot soldier in the Senate's Democratic majority.
McCain hasn't said whether he'd return to the Senate if he loses his White House bid - and his campaign is bristling at the very suggestion.
"McCain doesn't plan on returning to the Senate," McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said on Wednesday. "He plans on winning the election because he's absolutely qualified to be president of the United States."
But friends and GOP insiders who've taken a sober look at the polls expect to see McCain back at the Capitol come January - and maybe even as early as a lame-duck session scheduled to start two weeks after the election.
They're just not sure what role he will play there, Politico reported.
"I think John will return to the Senate," says a longtime friend of McCain's. "The question is whether he'll return to be a constructive force or whether he'll be embittered. Only John can answer that."
Operatives in both parties say that Obama's defeat would have a tectonic impact outside of Washington - setting off a massive wave of angry soul-searching among Democrats who turned self-flagellation into an art form after a pair of losses to George W. Bush.
Yet Obama's return wouldn't greatly change the political order of the Senate. Still a freshman, the junior senator from Illinois would join Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and John F. Kerry (D- Mass.) in the We-Were-Almost-President Caucus, and he'd still have to abide by the dictates set by a stable Democratic leadership that seems certain to pick up seats regardless of Obama's fate.
McCain, by contrast, would have the potential to be a much bigger player in a much smaller, more troubled caucus.
Another senior GOP staffer predicted Senate Republicans, reeling from big losses on Election Day, might eschew McCain and other leaders like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) - assuming, of course, that McConnell survives his own tough reelection fight.