Could Fox News be spawning another candidate for president?
Judging by the noises that Mike Huckabee is suddenly making, that’s a strong possibility.
The host of a Saturday night show on FNC, Huckabee made a bid for the White House in 2008 and flirted with the idea in 2012. But nobody had been talking about him for 2016, and he has quite deliberately set out to change that with a string of interviews.
“I didn’t want any misinformation that I’ve told people I’m running—that’s not the case,” Huckabee told me yesterday. “I wanted to be honest and say, sure I’m looking at it.”
Once Huckabee started having meetings with potential donors and supporters, including some who haven’t backed him before, talking to the press was “just a matter of trying to shoot straight with people,” he says.
A major question for the former Arkansas governor is whether to give up his lucrative Fox perch—a decision that loomed large as he agonized about whether to jump into the last campaign—along with his radio commentaries.
Huckabee would have to leave the Fox payroll if he started taking serious steps toward the Republican primaries, such as forming an exploratory committee and raising money. That’s what happened with Fox contributors Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum in the 2012 cycle.
He is very mindful of the prospect of having “zero income,” Huckabee told me, “unlike Senate candidates who continue to get a paycheck even if they’re not showing up for work. I emptied out the treasury when I ran in 2008 and cashed in everything I could cash in.”
The other overriding question hanging over a Huckabee candidacy is the same one he wrestled with last time: could he raise enough money to be competitive? Huckabee ran a shoestring campaign in ’08, when he was initially written off by the press until winning the Iowa caucus, and doesn’t want to be the poverty candidate again.
In a coordinated effort to raise his potential presidential profile, Huckabee granted three interviews at week’s end to show the media that he should be in the mix.
With Jonathan Martin in the New York Times:
“Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas has not been among the Republicans frequently named as a potential 2016 presidential candidate, but he would like that to change. ‘I’m keeping the door open,’ Mr. Huckabee said in an interview here Thursday night about the possibility of seeking his party’s nomination again.”
With Karen Tumulty in the Washington Post:
“Add another name to the list of potential GOP presidential contenders for 2016. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — the winner of the 2008 Iowa caucuses, who took a pass on the 2012 presidential race — says he might be willing to give it another try. In an interview Thursday night, Huckabee said he is receiving encouragement to run ‘from places where I never got it before.’”
With CBN’s David Brody:
“In an exclusive backstage television interview with The Brody File, former governor Mike Huckabee says, ‘there’s a new openness now’ for a run at the presidency in 2016. Huckabee says he’s been encouraged to run by top evangelical and financial figures that did not back him in 2008.”
Huckabee’s social conservatism with a smile, his blue-collar appeal and his background as a minister—not to mention running a state for a decade—give him a singular appeal. Indeed, he is brandishing polling that shows him leading in Iowa and South Carolina.
But Huckabee noticed that all the chatter is about Chris Christie and Rand Paul and Jeb Bush and Scott Walker and others, and wants to keep his name in the mix to preserve his options.
Does his Fox platform help keep him in the public eye? Of course. The same was true of Gingrich and Santorum, and Sarah Palin when she pondered a run.
But if he can’t raise many millions of dollars, he will run out of gas after the early contests, as he did against John McCain.
Huckabee is a guy who doesn’t have to be president, and he was reluctant to give up his Fox salary as he weighed the race in 2011.
As he told me then, “I’m not a megalomaniac. I don’t think I’m the only person who can save America. I wouldn’t vote for someone who was that full of themselves. It’s a dangerous thing to have someone in a public office who believes he is not a public servant, he is the messiah.”
For now, Huckabee is candid in saying that yakking in front of a microphone is far easier than actually governing. And that viewers aren’t the same as voters.
“A lot of people like Jay Leno,” he says. “I don’t see a Leno-for-president campaign going on.”
An Iowa Poll Now?
An absurdly early Des Moines Register poll out yesterday backs up Huckabee’s point.
Paul Ryan (now under fire on the right for the bipartisan budget deal he brokered with Patty Murray) has a 73 percent approval rating among Iowa Republicans, the survey says. Huckabee in second with 66 percent. Chris Christie, less well matched to the state’s conservative GOP electorate, is at 51 percent.
Oh, and Hillary Clinton? She clocks in among Iowa Democrats at 89 percent.
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Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington.