When Does the Secret Service Stop Protecting a Defeated Presidential Candidate?

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Nov. 7 2012 3:07 PM

You’re on Your Own, Javelin

When will the Secret Service stop protecting Mitt Romney?

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Mitt Romney asks Secret Service agents for a hankerchief to wipe his face as he greets supporters on Sept. 13, 2012

Photograph by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/GettyImages.

Barack Obama’s win in Tuesday’s election means that Mitt Romney (whose Secret Service code name is Javelin) will no longer be entitled to government bodyguards. How long does the Secret Service continue to protect the losing candidate after a presidential election?

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For a few days. The Secret Service is authorized by law to protect major party presidential candidates beginning 120 days before the general election, but the statute doesn’t say when that protection should cease. It appears that the service makes this decision on case-by-case basis. Historically, agents have stuck with a defeated challenger for about a week after the election, not waiting for the Electoral College vote or inauguration. If the incumbent loses, he is entitled to protection for 10 years as a former president. (Presidents who served before 1997 are guarded for life.)

The Secret Service is limited in its mandate in part because the protection it provides is so expensive. By some estimates, it costs the government around $40,000 per day to ensure the safety of a presidential candidate, and the Secret Service budgeted $113 million to protect candidates in 2012. The expense became an issue earlier this year when Newt Gingrich continued to travel with a Secret Service detail long after he stopped actively campaigning. Candidates are entitled to decline protection. Deficit hawk Ron Paul has refused a Secret Service detail.

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Brian Palmer writes about science, medicine, and the environment for Slate and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Email him at explainerbrian@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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