Huckabee toys with White House run

By Philip Elliott

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Feb. 24 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

FILE - In this Sept. 17, 2010, file photo, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee speaks in Washington. Huckabee isn’t tamping down speculation of another presidential run. He also isn’t doing much to prepare for one.

Jacquelyn Martin, File, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

WASHINGTON — 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."

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