The GOP grassroots starting buzzing late Friday afternoon. Folks who had organized, committed dollars, pledged to be part of volunteer efforts--sizable in historic proportions--were about to finally know the fate of the undisputed front runner for the GOP nomination for 2012. What would Governor Mike Huckabee do?
In head to head match ups, in poll after poll, as far back as February 2010, no potential GOP candidate had experienced greater "virtual" success against President Obama than Governor Mike Huckabee. For more than a full year, President Obama had lost poll after poll to Governor Huckabee, while soundly defeating other GOP potential candidates Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, and the usual litany of also rans.
Questions had been raised this year about Huckabee's ability to raise money, but in recent days, specific, targeted meetings with some of the biggest money men and women around and the top "bundlers" had all made it clear that if he chose to run a Huckabee candidacy would be well-endowed.
Questions had also been raised about Huckabee's policy positions on various issues in 2008, but since then --on a daily basis-- the governor had made his positions clear to an audience that once gained similar insights from Paul Harvey on more than 600 radio stations.
Then, of course, the strong ratings Huckabee has enjoyed for his show on Fox News Channel was like extra ice cream on apple pie. The governor didn't just consistently win his timeslot on Saturday evenings, but beat all other weekend news programming on Saturday nights. And, when the show re-aired on Sundays, it also enjoyed strong ratings.
Questions had been raised about his family's concerns and the emotional and physical toll a campaign cycle has on relationships. But Governor Huckabee made it clear Saturday evening at roughly 9:56 p.m. ET, his decision was not based on money, platform, name recognition, or even family concerns.
All of the outstanding questions had been answered.
Then, he explained to America that it all came down to a decision made from within and after prayer -- and that he was at peace with what he had decided. He was out. Period.
Huckabee's absence in the 2012 contest, leaves an enormous hole for the most reliable block of GOP voters in the country: evangelicals.
His absence in the political debates now leaves the spotlight to someone else--given that he was largely considered the winner of all the GOP debate contests in the 2008 race.
His absence from the 2012 presidential race removes the only potential candidate in the Republican Party who consistently polled ahead of Obama, every week, in nearly every match up, and across a broad coalition of voting blocs--including Blacks, Hispanics, and others from groups that don't traditionally support Republican candidates.
Huckabee made it clear that he intends to stay involved in the political process, that he will assist candidates, that he'll keep his political action group active and weigh in on all kinds of races from candidates and lawmakers in Congress to the presidential race.
I've written at length in my new book about the biggest deficit we face as a nation, and it is not one that is measured in dollars, commerce, or trade--it is one of character.
With Saturday's official announcement from Huckabee America doesn't have a candidate who has announced a run for the presidency who makes a clear distinction between right and wrong, who can separate common sense from stupidity, and who speaks directly and plainly to the hearts of the voters.
Now that the governor has stepped aside, a wide-open field becomes even more important. Honest answers to genuine questions become even more crucial, and most importantly tremendous insight and solutions to the biggest challenges of our national identity must be found.
The GOP is now at a distinct disadvantage with Huckabee out. There is now no one in the field who consistently matches up well against President Obama. (In some ways you just know that the Obama camp must be thrilled at the prospect of not having to send the president into a general election debate against Huckabee's sharp wit.)
But here's my message to all of the good people who had hoped for a Huckabee run for the presidency in 2012. -- All is not lost, not even close. Ideas still matter. Words mean things. Policies impact lives. And decisions have consequences.
Just this week, President Obama made a series of tremendously dishonest faux pas, on one hand claiming our domestic drilling levels were at historic highs--only to be shown that they are roughly half what they were in 1970. He can and must be held accountable.
In some ways the 2012 presidential race is perfectly aligned for a political outsider to come in and do well. Herman Cain by most accounts won the first debate held in South Carolina, and perhaps Huckabee's exit is his gain.
Once the announcement was made, my producer came to my studio and queried, "What do you think?"
My answer was simple, "I think we all need to do our homework, know the issues, know the positions of the candidates, and become advocates for the ideas we believe will solve our biggest problems."
In short, absolutely nothing has changed, and it's time to get to work.
Kevin McCullough is the nationally syndicated host of "The Kevin McCullough Show" weekdays (7-9 a.m. ET) & "Baldwin/McCullough Radio" Saturdays (9-11 p.m. ET) on 265 stations. His latest book, "No He Can't: How Barack Obama is Dismantling Hope and Change" is available now.