Huckabee toys with White House run

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mike Huckabee isn’t tamping down speculation of another presidential run. But he isn’t doing much to prepare for one.

The winner of the Iowa caucuses in 2008 doesn’t sound all that enthusiastic about another bid as he travels on a nationwide book tour that includes early GOP primary states. Also calling into question how seriously the former Baptist pastor is weighing a candidacy: He plans to spend part of the summer in Alaska hosting a cruise.

“I’m still very serious about considering it,” Huckabee said of the race for the White House during an interview Wednesday. “But I’m doing it in my own time frame. I’m not allowing myself to be pushed into something because the media is all anxious for me to start.

“Help me understand why I’ve got to decide and nobody else has.”

It’s hardly the first mixed signal about his interest in the 2012 race, which so far has drawn no declared candidates.

Many of the key players from Huckabee’s 2008 bid have moved on. Former campaign manager Chip Saltsman now works for freshman Republican Congressman Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee, and former campaign spokeswoman Alice Stewart took a job at the beginning of the year as a deputy to Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin, a Republican.

“It’s one of those situations where he hasn’t made up his mind, and we all have bills to pay, so we need to keep the money coming in,” Stewart said. “In the event he decides to run, a lot of folks will revisit that.”

Huckabee is doing just enough to remain a credible contender but is hardly clamoring to position himself as the front-runner in a second attempt at the White House.

Though the former governor remains a presence in Arkansas, he’s no longer a resident of the state. He and his wife last year moved their residency and their voter registration to Florida, where he has a home under construction.

He has remained in contact with his supporters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina but hasn’t been aggressive in his fundraising. He has maintained a national profile through his job with the Fox News Channel but hasn’t rushed to insert himself into the daily back and forth the way some of his other potential rivals have.

And he will be spending a week at sea in June, playing host to tourists paying as much as $3,000 to spend seven days visiting Alaska.

“My wife and I have been on Alaska cruises two or three times and we loved it. A guy called . and said, ’Would you be a speaker?’ So I said yeah. We get a cruise, we get to go on a cruise and we get to enjoy it. Heck, yeah, it’s that simple,” Huckabee said. “It’s not a bad gig.”

Rex Nelson, a former aide to Huckabee when he was governor, said that the mixed messages aren’t just an act, and he believes the former governor is truly torn about his future plans, especially when weighed against the lucrative opportunities of his television and radio jobs.

“There’s no game there,” Nelson said. “He enjoys what he’s doing, and he’s making a good living doing what he’s doing and the question is, ’Do I give up something I enjoy and something I’m paid handsomely for to roll the dice for something that may not pan out?’”

Stewart said she sees the opportunities for Huckabee.

“I see it as he’s got a full plate of opportunities now in terms of radio and television and speaking, and going on important international trips. Right now, he is seriously looking at the field, but there’s not mixed signals,” Stewart said. “It’s the same thing. At the end of the day, he has to pay bills, too, and if he were to prematurely jump in the ring, a lot of that would have to stop, so he needs to look at all the options and consider the field before he makes a decision.”

Republicans have yet to rally behind any of the potential candidates, none of whom has formally entered the race. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is in the process of putting together a presidential committee. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, another 2008 candidate, is unlikely to launch his expected campaign before April.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is expected to decide in the coming weeks. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is talking with activists and operatives about a potential campaign, as is Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.

And Sarah Palin, her party’s 2008 vice presidential nominee and former Alaska governor, has sustained a national profile and remains an open question for the Republicans.

None has yet taken the public steps of starting a campaign, in part because of the uncertainty of the field and in part because of costs. The minute a campaign begins, candidates find themselves on the phone for hours with donors each day to pay for the offices, the staff and the travel.

It’s a far cry from January 2007, when Huckabee joined the early flood of 2008 candidates — just weeks after leaving office.

A second national campaign is tempting for Huckabee, whose party tends to favor candidates who make a second run. Should he seek the nomination, Huckabee enjoys high name recognition and a populist message that could find a receptive audience among tea party-style activists.

Huckabee also enjoys the highest favorable ratings among those mulling bids. A CNN/Opinion Research poll in January found 72 percent of Republicans have a favorable opinion of him.

Eric Woolson, who managed Huckabee’s Iowa campaign in 2008, said Huckabee’s supporters in the state are waiting to see what Huckabee plans to do. Woolson said any candidate faces the danger of entering too late but said Huckabee has the benefit this time around of being a much better known quantity than he was in 2008, adding:

“He was starting out as an asterisk last time.”

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DeMillo reported from Little Rock, Ark.

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