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The GOP bench at Romney’s convention

TAMPA FL - AUGUST 28:  South CarolinGov. Mark Sanford attends Republican National ConventiTampBay Times Forum August 28 2012 TampFlorida.

TAMPA, FL - AUGUST 28: South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford attends the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on August 28, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. Today is the first full session of the RNC after the start was delayed due to Tropical Storm Isaac. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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Updated: October 1, 2012 5:40PM

TAMPA — When I saw him, Texas Gov. Rick Perry was working the long stretch of radio row Wednesday at the Republican Convention, explaining to a talk show host what he had learned from having his 2012 presidential candidacy fizzle almost from the start.

That was just a few hours after he left open the door for another White House run in an interview with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd. “It’s a long time until 2016 and a lot of good things could happen,” he said. “My plan is for Mitt Romney to win and for him to get this country back on track and I’ll keep running the best state in the nation.”

Ambitious politicians — on the ascent or looking for a comeback — use conventions to work media, donors and party influentials.

A smashing convention speech can make a career — an example in the extreme is Barack Obama’s 2004 Boston Democratic Convention address, which set him up for his 2008 White House win.

The word comeback popped in my head — with a question mark — when I spotted former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford doing interviews. Radio row is the place at conventions where radio stations set up shop on long rows of tables — which makes it beyond convenient for guests to quickly do serial interviews.

You may recall Sanford left office in 2011 after an extramarital affair with an Argentine woman, who, I recently read, he just got engaged to. Now the person who succeeded Sanford is South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley — who, when she was elected, was seen as a rising star.

Haley made some stumbles early on, but nothing that really mattered to the Romney team. On Tuesday night Haley made a big debut on the national scene. She had the prestige assignment of introducing Ann Romney to the nation from the convention podium.

Sen. John McCain used the 2004 convention to help set the stage for his 2008 bid; Romney worked the 2008 GOP convention with an eye toward 2012.

The conventions — Romney’s and President Obama’s in Charlotte, N.C., next week ­— show off the bench of each party. Some folks get speaking slots, other hopefuls like Perry create their own breaks.

The GOP bench includes figures who have raised their profiles in this election cycle or kept themselves in play. Put former Sen. Rick Santorum, the last viable Romney primary challenger, in the latter category. The convention showed he earned his niche. It will take a while to see what he does with it.

A spotlight has been thrown on a string of GOP past and present governors: former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is now a Fox News host; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker survived a union-driven recall election to have a national following.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie failed to maximize his Tuesday night keynote opportunity, making a speech that was far more about him than the Romney-Ryan ticket.

The convention and run-up has also provided breakout opportunities for Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.).

The biggest boost, of course, goes to Rep. Paul Ryan. A few weeks ago he was barely known outside his Janesville district and Washington. On Wednesday Ryan, the GOP candidate for vice president, made the biggest speech of his life.

And if you are just hearing about Ryan, consider the boost the convention is giving to the governor who introduced him. What’s her name? New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.

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