May 15 (Bloomberg) -- Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a Baptist pastor turned cable news star, said he won’t run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.
“My answer is clear and firm: I will not seek the Republican nomination for president,” Huckabee, now a Fox News Channel commentator who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, said yesterday at the close of his program. He called it a “spiritual” choice that contradicts support he sees in opinion polls.
“All the factors say go, but my heart says no,” said Huckabee, who plans instead to continue his show on Fox News.
Huckabee, 55, is a favorite of socially conservative voters who make up a key bloc in Iowa and South Carolina, important early voting states in the party’s nominating contests. His decision to pass on the nomination reshapes a Republican field still forming, creating an opening for candidates with strong socially conservative records.
“It completely changes the race,” said Rich Bond, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, who ran President George H.W. Bush’s 1988 campaign in Iowa. “Removing the Iowa frontrunner from the race is a very big deal.”
Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, weighing a campaign for president, said the Republican Party would have “benefited” from Huckabee’s involvement in the race.
“It is unfortunate that we will not have his voice -- or his bass guitar -- in the presidential debate,” Huntsman said in a statement, referring to the instrument that Huckabee played on his program with rock-and-roll star Ted Nugent before announcing he won’t run for president.
Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, a prospective candidate, called Huckabee an “important leader” within the party and said he planned to “work hard to win the support of the millions” who backed Huckabee.
In a video at the close of Huckabee’s broadcast, real estate developer Donald Trump -- who also is weighing a presidential bid -- called him a “terrific guy.”
“But a lot of people are very happy he will not be running,” said Trump, who hasn’t announced his own decision about running. “Especially other candidates.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is running for president as a Republican, called Huckabee’s decision “a wonderful example for all Americans of someone trying to do the right thing.”
Huckabee said today on “Fox News Sunday” that until a few days ago, he believed that he would run.
“More and more the signs were pointing that way,” he said. “The objections were moved out of the way. I could see a pathway to getting the money I never thought perhaps I could. And, you know, things began to unfold.”
Still, he said, “the more that all of the external things began to materialize, the less the internal things began to crystallize for me.”
Huckabee said that the decision to forgo the race came after an introspective evaluation, and that he now has a sense of inner peace.
“Last night I laid my head on the pillow and had a very good night’s sleep,” he said.
While he will not be making an immediate endorsement of other candidates, Huckabee said, he does anticipate backing the eventual Republican nominee, including former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney or Trump.
National polls of Republican-leaning voters had shown Huckabee leading as a presidential candidate within his party, typically topping lists of potential Republican challengers.
That support marked a four-year evolution for a candidate who entered the 2008 election contest as an underdog, registering at 1 percent in early polling. With only a skeletal campaign operation, he focused his attention on winning over socially conservative voters in Iowa.
Huckabee spent months traveling the state, sometimes with action star Chuck Norris, a devout Christian beloved by the evangelical community. In January 2008, he rode strong support from the state’s social conservatives to win his party’s Iowa caucuses.
Though he later lost the nomination to Arizona Senator John McCain, Huckabee parlayed his higher profile into a Fox News Channel program, called “Huckabee,” and a syndicated radio show.
Publicly, he showed little interest in running another campaign. In December, he filed paperwork to build a $3 million beach home in Walton County, Florida. He made plans to host an Alaskan cruise in June and this month started a series of animated children’s videos on American history. He earns about $500,000 from Fox News in a contract that goes through 2012, money he would have to forgo if he made a bid.
Spoke with Strategist
He spoke to Republican strategist Ed Rollins as recently as a week ago to review his ability to win the support of fundraisers and local activists in early primary states.
“I came back with positive answers on everything,” said Rollins, who chaired Huckabee’s 2008 campaign. “There was no reason for him not to run in the sense of the politics.”
Other candidates with strong records of opposing abortion rights and gay marriage -- including Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, a Tea Party favorite, and Pawlenty -- stand to benefit the most from Huckabee’s decision, said Rollins.
“There’s always a social conservative who does well in this campaign,” he said. “It just makes it very, very wide open race.”
Huckabee, a native of President Bill Clinton’s hometown of Hope, Arkansas, was elected lieutenant governor of the state in a 1993 special election. Three years later, he replaced Jim Guy Tucker as governor after Tucker resigned in the midst of a financial scandal. Huckabee served two terms.
As governor, he pushed through changes to the state’s education and health insurance systems, including expanding health insurance for children whose families didn’t qualify for Medicaid. Angering some in his party, he raised fuel taxes to finance a road-building program in 1999.
He also commuted the sentences of more than 1,000 convicts, a decision that was attacked by his opponents during the 2008 presidential campaign. Those actions gained renewed attention in 2009, when a man whose sentence Huckabee commuted in 2000 killed four police officers in Washington State.
A graduate of Ouachita Baptist University in 1976, he soon went to work for James Robinson, a television evangelist.
Four years later, he became pastor of the Immanuel Baptist Church in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and started hosting a local talk show. He later moved to Beech Street First Baptist Church in Texarkana and became the town’s newscaster, covering election results, weather, and high school football games. He and his wife, Janet, have two sons and a daughter.
Gingrich has announced his candidacy, and Pawlenty and Romney have filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to raise money for potential runs. Texas Congressman Ron Paul announced his third White House bid in New Hampshire on May 13.
Other potential candidates include Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Trump and Huntsman, who stepped down as U.S. ambassador to China at the end of April.
The lack of a clear Republican frontrunner has encouraged others, including Bachmann and Trump, to position themselves for potential runs. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour said April 25 that he wouldn’t enter the race because he lacked an “absolute fire in the belly” to run.
As the Republican race gears up, Obama has already opened a 2012 re-election campaign headquarters in Chicago. He raised millions of dollars last month at events in Illinois, California and New York.
To contact the reporter on this story: Lisa Lerer in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at email@example.com