Mr. Huckabee has told followers to tune in to his Saturday evening show on Fox News for what he calls a major announcement. But Ed Rollins, who directed his 2008 campaign and has been organizing his 2012 campaign-in-waiting, said he has not been consulted.
“I’ve heard nothing, which indicates to me he’s not running,” Mr. Rollins said in an interview.
If Mr. Huckabee formally says he’s a no-go, his absence will reshape the still-chaotic campaign for the Republican nomination. He leads or is near the top of virtually every poll of Republican primary voters, and would have been the presumptive front runner in the first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa, which he won in 2008. Without him, a large Evangelical contingent – plus voters drawn to his easy-going personality – will be up for grabs in the Hawkeye State and beyond.
As recently as a week ago, Mr. Rollins said, he had been meeting with Mr. Huckabee intensively to go over his chances. A month ago, he said, the former governor was “fully engaged.” Two weeks ago, “he started backing off, but he still wanted to go through, could he raise the money, could he put together the operatives,” Mr. Rollins recalled. All the answers were “yes,” the campaign chief added.
They had assembled a strategy the foresaw him sweeping to victory in Iowa, then focusing on South Carolina, Florida and Texas.
“There was absolutely nothing that I told him that would back him away from doing the race,” Mr. Rollins said. “If he said tomorrow night, ‘I’m running,’ and came to me, I could put together a campaign in week,” he said.
Mr. Huckabee has about 10 close political advisers left over from his 2008 campaign, many of whom have held off committing to other campaigns, or even said they would quit their jobs, should he decide to run. This core cadre has met with him over the last month, and has strongly advised that he jump in. “He has by far the clearest path to the nomination of all the 2012 candidates,” one of the would-be Huckabee team said.
But several member of the inner circle said Friday that they had no knowledge of what Mr. Huckabee planned to announce, and were dumbfounded that he had kept his own would-be campaign in the dark. Mr. Huckabee has already seen most of his main operatives in Iowa and New Hampshire gobbled up by competing campaigns.
There have been lingering doubts. His Fox show and series of books have made Mr. Huckabee a wealthy man for the first time in his life. He built a mansion in Florida. Fox executives told him he had to decide whether he would run or keep his show.
“I said, ‘If you don’t have the fire in the belly, don’t go,’” Mr. Rollins said. “I can’t want it more for him than he wants it for himself.”