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Posted at 8:20 AM ET, 01/21/2011

Mike Huckabee's mixed messages

By Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza

Mike Huckabee would start the 2012 GOP president in a small group of early frontrunners -- a far better position than four years ago. That much we know.

What we don't know is whether he'll actually run.

More than any other top potential presidential candidate, the jury is out on whether the former Arkansas governor really wants to run.

And, Huckabee himself is sending very mixed signals that makes reading his 2012 tea leaves very tough. He told Fox News Friday morning he would probably make his decision this summer, arguing it's smart to wait: "I think people get sick of us if we're out there for too long."

On the "won't run" side:

* Politico's Jonathan Martin reported that Huckabee's 2008 campaign manager, Chip Saltsman, was taking a job as chief of staff to freshman Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.). (Saltsman suggested he had an agreement with Fleischmann that would allow him to help Huckabee if the former governor ran for president.)

*Huckabee announced Thursday via email that he would headline a Christian-themed Alaskan cruise in June.

* The $3 million home he is building in Florida. The governor would be giving up all his media deals if he runs and, unlike other candidates, wouldn't have steady income or a job to fall back on in case he loses. (A job helps when you've got a mortgage on a $3 million house.)

On the "will run side:

* Huckabee will make six -- yes, six! -- stops in Iowa and five stops in South Carolina to promote his new book "A Simple Government". That's a LOT of cities in two states critical to the presidential nominating fight.

* Every national poll we've seen puts Huckabee either first, second or third. And, in Iowa -- where he won in 2008 -- he appears to be even stronger.

* Huckabee's team has made a habit of fighting back against suggestions that he won't run. "In my conversations with him he certainly has not made up his mind and to the best of my knowledge no one else could tell you any differently," Huckabee adviser Ed Rollins told The Fix. Whywhy waste the energy unless Huckabee is seriously considering the race?

Whatever the case, Huckabee doesn't seem eager to get off the political fence any time soon -- which could well exacerbate the problems he had in 2008.

Besides raising money, Huckabee's major issue in the last race was building a national campaign team and organization to capitalize on his win in Iowa. If he enters the race after everybody else, all the big-name advisers -- and many of the best grassroots organizers -- will likely be snapped up already.

Lightning rarely strikes in the same spot twice, and a big win in Iowa wouldn't necessarily give Huckabee as much momentum as last time. He would need a more sustained effort to compete with the likes of Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin and others.

Sherrod Brown looks strong: Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown is one of Republicans' top targets in 2012 but early polling suggests the Democratic incumbent starts from a position of political strength.

Brown's 45 percent approval/25 percent disapproval in a new Quinnipiac University poll is virtually unheard of in a political environment where incumbents are unpopular almost by default.

Matched up against a generic Republican candidate, Brown leads 45 percent to 33 percent, and 45 percent said he deserved to be reelected while 30 percent said he did not.

A number of Republicans are considering the race against Brown including Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, Rep. Jim Jordan and state Treasurer Josh Mandel.

All three would almost certainly be competitive against Brown in a state that went overwhelmingly for Republicans in the 2010 election -- just four years after Brown rode a Democratic wave to a double-digit victory over then-Sen. Mike DeWine (R).

But, the Q poll makes clear that Brown will be far from a political pushover in the 2012 race. And that's heartening news for Senate Democrats.

New Hampshire straw poll this weekend: There are no declared candidates yet, but that doesn't mean we can't have a straw poll.

The New Hampshire Republican Party will hold a presidential straw poll on Saturday at it's annual meeting, which features about 500 party activists.

Without the presidential campaign having begun in earnest, the straw poll amounts to little more than a popularity contest. But it will be interesting to see where the grassroots is leaning.

Romney has lead early polling in the Granite State, so he should have a strong showing.

Fixbits

Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel has a wide lead in advance of next month's Chicago mayoral race, according to a new Chicago Tribune/WGN poll. Emanuel took 44 percent to 21 percent for former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun and 16 percent for former Chicago board of education president Gery Chico. City Clerk Miguel del Valle took 7 percent. Emanuel is hoping to avoid a runoff by winning a simply majority of the vote on Feb. 22.

Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman is keeping a busy speaking schedule after her loss in the 2010 California governor's race, fueling speculation that she may run against Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) in 2012.

John Robitaille (R), who finished second in Rhode Island's governor's race in 2010, will probably not run against Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) in 2012. Instead he's eyeing another governor campaign in 2014.

Former Montana lieutenant governor candidate Steve Daines has started his 2012 Senate campaign with some solid early fundraising, pulling in $225,000 in his first six weeks. Daines is running for the GOP nomination to face Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

Former West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant (D) -- a former Mountaineer Mascot! -- announced that she is running in the 2011 special election for the state's open governorship.

Must-reads

"Redistricting Winner Is Still to Be Determined" -- Stu Rothenberg, Roll Call

"Rick Santorum Explains Obama Race Comments" -- Brian Montopoli, CBS News

"Iowa social conservatives to hear Pawlenty, Bachmann" -- Rochester Post-Bulletin

"Alexandria, Va., hosts a quiet hub of Republican power" -- Matea Gold, Los Angeles Times

By Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza  | January 21, 2011; 8:20 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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Next: Senate Republicans' primary challenge

 
 
 
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