Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said Saturday night he will not seek the Republican presidential nomination, stepping aside after a long publicity build-up in which he dropped hints that he would join the race.
"I will not seek the Republican nomination for president this year," Mr. Huckabee said on his show on Saturday night. "My heart says no."
A favorite of the party's social conservatives who was at or near the top in early polls for the 2012 GOP nod, Mr. Huckabee said he would work to help other Republican candidates in the race.
He said it was unthinkable that he would undertake a run for the GOP nomination without the Lord's blessings, and that, rather than the expected "brutal" and "savage" attacks on his family, led him not to make the run. Mr. Huckabee said his wife actually encouraged him to run again. Some close aides said they did not know what Mr. Huckabee was going to do until he went public with his decision Saturday.
It would have been a second presidential bid for the Arkansan. After a surprise upset in the January 2008 Iowa presidential preference caucuses and wins in several other small states, he nonetheless lost the nomination to Sen. John McCain.
David Lane, a longtime Huckabee friend who organizes pastors around the country for conservative causes, was not surprised at the decision.
"That's really where I thought he would go," Mr. Lane told The Washington Times. "He didn't have the fire in the belly or, in the spiritual sense, a calling from the Lord to run."
Most political observers have been predicting Mr. Huckabee would not make the race because it made little financial or personal sense for him to give up what has become a lucrative career as a Fox News commentator and talk-show host. He could still have a big impact on who will win the race.
"Now he is going to have every other candidate chasing him for his support," Mr. Lane said. "He could have been the nominee."
Mr. Lane said his personal knowledge of Mr. Huckabee's past actions suggests Mr. Huckabee's withdrawal favors former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for 2012.
Mr. Huckabee's decision sidesteps what was shaping up as an intriguing legal battle over his role as a Fox News news personality and his possible White House run. A new legal ambiguity has resulted from the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in the 2010 Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission case overturning a federal prohibition against corporate spending to support or oppose political candidates.
"The Citizens United case doesn't change the law prohibiting candidates from using their own TV shows to advance their candidacies," said David Norcross, former Republican National Committee general counsel. "Huckabee could face Federal Election Committee penalties."
But James Bopp Jr., who has mounted successful legal challenges to aspects of federal campaign finance laws, said federal law long has had a "media exception," so that both Fox and Mr. Huckabee would not be in violation had he announced his candidacy on his own television show.
The downside for Fox, however, is that under what remains of the so-called "Fairness Doctrine," Fox would have had to grant every other candidate equal time to make a pitch in a five-minute segment that the candidate, not Fox, controls.
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