Fox News weighing decision on keeping Mike Huckabee

Ben Carson is off the Fox News payroll. Is Mike Huckabee next?

The former Arkansas governor, who won the Iowa caucuses in 2008, has been careful not to do anything that would shatter his status as a network contributor.

But some of his political moves have prompted a reevaluation.

Bill Shine, Fox’s executive vice president for programming, said in a statement:

“We are taking a serious look at Governor Huckabee’s recent activity in the political arena and are evaluating his current status. We plan on meeting with him when he returns from his trip overseas.”

The scrutiny was probably inevitable after Fox dropped Carson as a contributor on Friday. The trigger there was the Baltimore physician’s plan to run an hourlong infomercial on local stations as a prelude to a possible presidential run.

I addressed the development on Sunday’s “Media Buzz”: “This was a smart move by Fox. Because a guy who is more or less running for president shouldn't be on a network payroll. Which means Fox also faces a decision about former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee who is openly weighing a White House run as well.”

That got plenty of pickup, but the day of reckoning was inevitable. Huckabee, who hosts a Saturday night program, went through a similar dance in the 2012 cycle before deciding to stick with Fox rather than mounting a second presidential campaign.

The Washington Post reported today that Huckabee “is reconnecting with activists and enlisting staff to position himself in a growing field of potential Republican presidential candidates.” In fact, the Baptist preacher is leading a group of more than 100 pastors and Republican insiders from early primary states on an overseas jaunt to such locations as Poland and Britain.

Huckabee has also formed a nonprofit political advocacy group, America Takes Action.

Is he on the verge of running? “His heart is into it,” Huckabee’s daughter Sarah told the Post.

Asked about his Fox connection, Huckabee told the paper: “I have to be very careful about this” because he has “obligations in broadcasting.” He added that “I am not doing anything official at this point.”

Fox is obviously a great platform for a potential Republican contender. In an interview last week, Bill O’Reilly told Huckabee: “You must be happy because you, Paul, Rand Paul and Jeb Bush are all about 11 percent in the Real Clear political who Republicans would like to see run. That's taking Mitt Romney out of the equation. If Romney gets in, then he becomes the favorite. So, you know, it looks to me like you have a decent shot if you want to go to be president.”

Huckabee responded: “Well, I think it's quite a ways away to make that decision, but, you know, it's kind of comforting to know that at least there are 11 percent of the people that would like it.”

In 2011, Fox cut ties with two contributors, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, as they took steps to jump into the GOP primaries. Some network insiders said then that they were uncomfortable with Huckabee’s role. And he was conscious of the situation, saying: "If I run, I walk away from a pretty good income.”

The issue is a familiar one in cable news, going back to the days when Pat Buchanan kept returning to CNN after his presidential campaigns.

The Post says Huckabee has been sounding out potential consultants, including his former campaign manager Chip Saltsman. “According to Huckabee’s associates, the Fox News show may not be a runaway national success, but it has been useful to Huckabee’s political brand, keeping him in front of Republican primary voters but not turning him into a political celebrity whose every move draws attention.”

But now it may be drawing so much attention that both sides have to make a decision.

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