WASHINGTON | Mike Huckabee's decision to forgo a shot at the presidency further muddies the field for a worthy Republican challenger to President Barack Obama, and leaves America's social conservatives without a clear candidate to throw their support behind.
Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, joins Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, South Dakota Sen. John Thune and Indiana Rep. Mike Pence on the sidelines. His decision underscores that for all of Obama's vulnerabilities on the economy, taking on his re-election machine and potential $1 billion treasure chest remains a daunting task.
Huckabee, a 55-year-old Baptist minister, insists he could have captured the GOP nomination, citing polls that showed he could score strong even in the Northeast and among the less conservative rank-and-file party members.
"All the factors say go, but my heart says no," Huckabee, the winner of the 2008 Iowa caucuses, said Saturday night on his Fox News Channel show. He described the decision as a spiritual one.
"Only when I was alone, in quiet and reflective moments, did I have not only clarity but an inexplicable inner peace," he said. "Being president is a job that takes one to the limit of his or her human capacity. For me, to do it apart from the inner confidence that I was undertaking it without God's full blessing is simply unthinkable."
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been making a concerted effort to reach out to the right. Although he's been noting his recent conversion to Catholicism, he's hampered by two divorces and an adulterous history. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney must explain his change of heart over the years on positions on guns, gay rights and abortion; health care also is a problem for him. Minnesota's ex-governor, Tim Pawlenty, has had to apologize for backing climate change legislation. Donald Trump? Highly unlikely.
With so many social conservatives looking for a home, the void could prompt 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin or Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann to get in the race. Palin has yet to say if she will run, and Bachmann is inching toward a bid. Several other possible candidates, including Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, are in waiting mode.