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As former Huckabee manager heads to Hill, a 2012 run appears more uncertain

While none of the major possible Republican candidates for president have officially started a campaign, some — exemplified by former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Sen. Rick Santorum and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — have clearly begun the early stages of a 2012 bid. But the intentions of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, one of the early front runners for the GOP nomination, have largely remained unclear.

Political staffing news from Thursday morning indicates that a Huckabee 2012 campaign may be increasingly unlikely. Politico reported that Huckabee’s 2008 campaign manager Chip Saltsman has signed up to serve as chief of staff for newly-elected Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.). Speaking with Politico, Saltsman dismissed his career move as any indication of Huckabee’s intentions, noting that he has “a Notre Dame clause in [his] contract” allowing him to leave for a possible presidential campaign.

However, if Saltsman was going to be a major player in a Huckabee presidential campaign once again he would likely have to use that clause within a few months. The early stages of securing staff is just getting underway in early primary states, with the Iowa Caucus scheduled for a little over a year away. Most candidates will need to have begun their full campaigning by late spring or early summer, as the influential Ames Straw Poll is set for Aug. 13.

Unlike 2008, Huckabee would enter the field of contenders as a known candidate, providing him the advantage of already having a network of supporters and activists that he can tap into rather than building the campaign infrastructure from scratch. So he could start his campaign later than people, such as Pawlenty, who still need to introduce themselves to a national audience.

But that does not mean he could wait forever and enter the field at the last minute and coast to victory off his strong performance last time around. As former staffers such as Saltsman take other jobs, his Iowa supporters entertain visits from other candidates. Huckabee himself has made few visits to early nominating states, and it appears increasingly likely that he will sit out the campaign and enjoy his comfortable — and highly profitable — perch as a TV pundit at Fox News.

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