BOSTON - Mitt Romney spent the past six years running for president. After his loss to President Obama, he'll have to chart a different course.
His initial plan: spend time with his family. He has five sons and 18 grandchildren with a 19th on the way.
"I don't look at post-election to be a time of regrouping. Instead it's a time of forward focus," Romney told reporters aboard his plane on Tuesday evening as he returned to Boston after the final campaign stop of his political career. "I have, of course, a family and life important to me, win or lose."
The most visible member of that family -- wife Ann Romney -- has said that neither she nor her husband will seek political office again.
"Absolutely he will not run again," she said in October when asked if a loss would mean the end of Romney's political career. "Nor will I."
Romney's senior advisers refused to speculate publicly about what might be next for their boss. There was a general consensus, however: The 65-year-old Romney is unlikely to retire altogether. But following his defeat, his future role in a divided Republican Party is unclear.
"He's not a guy who's going to stay still, right. He's not a guy that's just going to hit a beach, play a lot of golf. He'll do something," said Russ Schriefer, one of Romney's strategists.
Not fully embraced
The Republican presidential nominee spent most of his career in private business. He's run for office four times and lost all but his bid for Massachusetts governor in 2002. That year, he ran as a moderate Republican who supported abortion rights and struck a conciliatory tone on gay rights and climate change. He also ran for the Senate.
After he decided to run for president, some of those positions changed. In his two presidential campaigns, he ran as an opponent of abortion, advocated amending the Constitution to ban gay marriage and described himself as "severely conservative."
But the Republican Party's most passionate voters never fully embraced him. Romney struggled through a long and nasty primary season, losing state contests to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, both of whom had long been sitting on their party's sidelines.
It wasn't immediately clear if Romney will seek an ongoing role in a Republican Party that's embarking upon a period of soul-searching. With a successful career in the private sector, he could secure a position in private business, though he is worth millions and hasn't worked a job with a regular paycheck in more than a decade. Those close to Romney also suggest he could pursue philanthropic opportunities or even play a role in the Olympics after having led the 2002 Winter Games.
Frustrated conservatives may make a full return to politics by Romney, even in a supporting role, difficult on the national stage.
"What was presented as discipline by the Romney campaign by staying on one message, the economy, was a strategic error," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List. She argued that Romney handed Obama a victory by failing to focus on a socially conservative agenda.