12 in 2012: Building a Media Empire, Huckabee to Look at Big Picture Before Choosing on White House Run

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has been busy since finishing second to John McCain in the 2008 presidential primaries, including hosting a popular cable show on Fox News, talking about the news on the radio, starting a political action committee and writing three books.

"More people know me from Fox News Channel, than ever knew me from running for president," Huckabee told Fox News' Bret Baier.

His knack for communicating to middle America is paying off. He received the highest favorability rating among potential 2012 Republican contenders in a recent Associated Press poll -- 49 percent.

He also came in second, with 22 percent, in the Values Voters Summit presidential straw poll in September and was named by likely GOP voters in an IowaRepublican.com poll as the favorite to win the Republican nomination.

Huckabee said the polling won't be a factor in determining his decision on whether to run.

"I mean, you can't base it on some opinion polls. That doesn't put money in the bank, in your campaign. It doesn't recruit volunteers up and down America," he said.

"I'm not sure that Huckabee has the ability to raise the $10s or $100s of millions necessary to run a presidential campaign in 2012. Huckabee was not able to raise much of anything for 2008, and that's what did him in," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.

If he was done in by cash, it wasn't before Huckabee won eight states in the GOP primary, finishing with the highest number of delegates behind McCain.

"He's a credible, believable guy. He clearly speaks his mind. He comes across well on the media," Sabato said.

"He's well thought of by a lot of conservatives, he has a good sense of humor," added David Yepsen, chief political correspondent for the Des Moines Register. "I saw him woo crowds in Iowa early on with just his wonderful personality."

Huckabee's ability to woo crowds and exude a sense of authenticity comes in part from his background as a Baptist minister. As governor, he was a model social conservative who supported pro-life and traditional marriage legislation, giving him a huge amount of support from evangelical Christians.

Huckabee said social issues should not ever be sacrificed even if they aren't front and center in the debate.

"I don't want us to ever forget that. Those are issues that do matter. They matter because they're somewhat the underpinning of what we are, as a people, a civilization," he said.

But to some economic conservatives, Huckabee is a big government Republican who got failing grades for increasing state spending and raising taxes, a characterization that makes him fume.

"One of the things that was most frustrating to me during the last presidential race was this attack that, well, Huckabee, he's just a big government guy. No, I wasn't, but I governed in a state where we had to balance the budget and we had to comply with such things as our Constitution, that mandated an equitable and adequate education for every student. I inherited the road system that had to be rehabilitated," he said.

"I also believe that as important as it is to keep taxes low, it's also important to pay for what you do. I don't believe in deficit spending," he said.

Huckabee said the biggest mistake of the health care law signed by President Obama is the "mystical magic" it claimed would be able to add 32 million people into the system while cutting half a trillion dollars to pay for it, "obliterating the payments to the providers and somehow coming up with a system that's supposed to work better and make everybody happy. That's crazy."

Huckabee said he'd repeal the legislation if it were up to him, but since the president has veto power, it would be more effective to surgically strike at its provisions.

As for foreign policy, he said the most important decision is on America's role in the world and whether it will be a policeman abroad or work on its border and national security to protect U.S. and its interests abroad from attack.

If Huckabee does run, he will surely expect to take heat from law and order Republicans angered by his decision to commute the sentence of career criminal Maurice Clemmons, who later murdered four Washington state police officers after his release from prison.

Huckabee said if he had the same information in front of him now as he had then, he would've reached the same decision. But since then, a lot of information that wasn't part of the paperwork didn't make it into Clemmons' file.

"I was making it based on the case of a 16-year-old black male who was given 108 years, which was far more of a sentence for a robbery than most people would get for murder. There was a whole string of things that went wrong in the case of Maurice Clemmons. He went back to prison after his parole and he should've stayed there. But later, both Washington state and my successor messed up the paperwork, and he wasn't held," he said.

In the end, the question for Huckabee is whether his folksy, popular appeal and the new audience he has reached since 2008 will give him enough traction in what is shaping up to be a contentious 2012 race.

"It's a whole lot more about the money than it is the message. And so, because it's more process-focused than policy-focused, we end up not necessarily giving attention to the people with the best ideas, but giving attention to the people with the machinery and the money, even if their message doesn't even sell," he said.

"Watch Special Report With Bret Baier through Friday for the series "12 in 2012" -- profiles of potential GOP contenders for the White House.