Defeated for the second time in a presidential campaign, John McCain will return to the US Congress where he has served the state of Arizona for the past 26 years.
At the age of 76 in 2012, the septuagenarian will be too old to consider running against Barack Obama at the end of the Democrat's first term, especially with his young and energetic running mate Sarah Palin waiting in the wings.
Instead, the former Vietnam prisoner of war, who staged a remarkable comeback to be named as the Republican presidential nominee, will return to Washington and the US Senate.
"I have fought for you most of my life, and in places where defeat meant more than returning to the Senate," Mr McCain told a crowd in Miami, Florida, during the closing days of his campaign.
"There are other ways to love this country, but I've never been the kind to back down when the stakes are high."
But his ultimate undoing was the fact that the story of John McCain known and respected in the Senate - an indisputable American hero, an experienced leader and a maverick willing to cross party lines - became diluted in the closing months of his campaign.
Instead, a series of confusing messages emerged as he moved from crisis to crisis, changing tactics and storylines along the way, leaving the American public with little grasp of what he stood for, despite several decades in the public eye.
He often seemed angry and awkward on the campaign trail, a significant problem when faced with one of the most accomplished orators in modern history.
And the two central figures in Mr McCain's presidential bid - Mrs Palin and "real" American "Joe the Plumber" - went from being hailed as heroes to being ridiculed on the national stage.
Mrs Palin electrified the Republican national convention and won Mr McCain the support of the party's conservative base with her devout Christianity and pro-life views.
But her selection raised serious concerns over his judgment as he had put a virtual unknown within a heartbeat of the presidency, despite his age and history of skin cancer, and she made a series of disastrous TV interviews which led to severe criticism, even from conservatives. And eventually campaign in-fighting became very public.
And Joe the Plumber, aka Joe Wurzelbacher from Holland, Ohio, criticised rival Barack Obama's tax plan and was held up by the Republican as an icon of hard-working America - despite several analyses showing he may be better off under Mr Obama's tax plan than under Mr McCain's.
But when "Joe" took to the campaign trail and started criticising the Democrat over Israel, despite telling reporters that, on foreign policy, he knew "just enough to kind of be dangerous", many US political pundits agreed with a Fox News commentator who said: "Man, it just gets frightening sometimes."
The issues in the 2008 election were also not those Mr McCain would have chosen.