Dial down the deafening Sarah Palin buzz for just a moment: The most consequential decision in the 2012 Republican presidential sweepstakes could be whether Mike Huckabee decides to run again â€“ and associates say the former Arkansas governor may well take the plunge.
If Huckabee gets in, he will unquestionably be a force to be reckoned with in the fight for the nomination. Heâ€™d be the undisputed frontrunner in lead-off Iowa, where he won by nine points in 2008. Heâ€™d be the candidate to beat in South Carolina, which he narrowly lost to John McCain two years ago in part because of a divided conservative vote. His weekly Fox show, thrice-daily radio program and Grisham-like ability to crank out a book-per-year has given him a direct media presence akin to Palinâ€™s â€“ but without the sky-high negatives.
And should Huckabee stay out, it would create a vacuum on the right among both religious conservatives and tea party activists that would significantly re-order the race and potentially create a larger opening for Palin. He polls well with self-identified evangelicals, women and low-income voters â€“ all blocs that also favor Palin. And a PPP poll conducted last month found that 34 percent of Huckabee supporters said that Palin is their second choice.
Yet a potential Huckabee candidacy has been little discussed, in part because of his place well outside the Republican establishment, and in part because of a conventional wisdom that heâ€™s enjoying his current career and income too much to risk it on a run.
Huckabee, for one, is tired of being left out of the conversation and sounds increasingly like a candidate.
â€œI just donâ€™t understand how it is that a person can read these polls day after day and the narrative is constantly everybody but me,â€ he told POLITICO. â€œWhether I do it or not, the fact is that if one looks at the overall body of information thatâ€™s available, nobody would be in a better position to take it all the way to November.â€
Few politicians who have felt â€“ as Huckabee did for a moment in 2008 â€“ a real shot at the presidency pass on a second run. That Huckabeeâ€™s national footprint, along with his bank account, has grown only strengthens the rationale for a second shot.
â€œThe polls are consistently favorable, putting me either at the top of every poll or right near it. Itâ€™s hard to ignore that, having swum in that water before when I barely registered in those very kinds of polls,â€ he said.
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