“I won’t make a decision about running until late in the spring of 2015, but the continued chatter has put Fox News into a position that is not fair to them,” Huckabee wrote in a letter to supporters Saturday evening released before his show started airing.
“The honorable thing to do at this point is to end my tenure here at Fox so I can openly talk with potential donors and supporters and gauge support,” he added.
On his Saturday night program, titled “Huckabee,” he said goodbye to viewers while insisting he hadn’t made up his mind yet about actually running.
He put it this way: “As much as I have loved doing the show, I cannot bring myself to rule out another presidential run. Oh, to be clear, I’m not making that announcement right now.”
He said he’d probably continue to make guest appearances on Fox, “I hope so!” and he thanked the network’s chairman Roger Ailes for “the past six and a half years of support.”
Some of Huckabee’s rivals might say the weekly platform on Fox where he reached about 1.3 million viewers gave him a leg-up.
In a recent poll about potential Republican presidential candidates, Huckabee received the support of 6 percent of respondents, putting him tied for fourth place.
On Saturday afternoon Huckabee had urged his followers on Facebook and Twitter to tune in for an announcement “that will make news for sure.”
In his subsequent letter, he wrote, “As much as I have loved doing the show, I love my country more, and feel that it may be time for me to enter a zone of comfort to engage in the conflicts that have almost destroyed the bedrock foundations of America.”
“I feel compelled to ascertain if the support exists strongly enough for another Presidential run. So as we say in television, stay tuned!”
A spokeswoman for Huckabee reaffirmed that he would make a decision about a run by “late spring.”
But by quitting the program now, Huckabee avoids further questions about the conflict between his television perch and a tantalizing bid for the presidency.
Those questions arose two months ago after The Washington Post reported that Huckabee was rebuilding a political team.
It has been no secret that Huckabee has been pondering another run for president. He has been holding meetings with GOP donors and recruiting staffers for a potential campaign.
But he has been “very careful about this” his words, in an interview with The Washington Post in November because of the potential conflict between his television show and a campaign.
Huckabee mounted an unsuccessful run for the Republican nomination in 2008. Later that year, he started to host the show.
Amid speculation about a possible run in 2012, he teased an announcement in May 2011 but ended up telling viewers that he’d opted against a bid: “All the factors say ‘go’ but my heart says ‘no.'”
Political prognosticators have said that a Huckabee run is more likely this time around.
After The Post story in November, a Fox News executive said the network was “taking a serious look” at his political activity and “evaluating his current status.”
In the past, Fox has terminated the contracts of employees who take clear steps toward political candidacies, by forming an exploratory committee, for instance. In early November it severed Ben Carson’s contributor contract.
Fox said nothing further about Huckabee’s status until Saturday, when a network spokesperson confirmed that it had “amicably parted ways with Huckabee.”
Huckabee, in his on-air sign-off, positioned it the same way.
“I agree with Fox that this is the right thing, and now is the right time,” he said, while acknowledging the network’s “generous paycheck.”
While hosting a show and abiding by Fox’s restrictions, he said, it is not “possible for me to openly determine political and financial support to justify a race.”
Now that process will presumably begin. Huckabee is already scheduled to visit Iowa later this month. He also has a new book coming out.
So what will Fox do with Huckabee’s time slot? A spokesperson said the network would run “various specials” for the next few weeks and try out “a few new ideas.”