LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said Saturday he won't seek the Republican presidential nomination, choosing to stick with a lucrative career as a television and radio personality over a race that would be both costly and caustic.
"All the factors say go, but my heart says no," Huckabee, the winner of the 2008 Iowa caucuses, said on his Fox News Channel show.
Huckabee's decision further muddies the GOP field as the Republican Party seeks a challenger for President Barack Obama.
A prominent social conservative, he ranks high in national popularity polls. And, had he run, he would have been a serious contender for the party nod with instant support among Christian evangelicals who dominate the Iowa caucuses and the early South Carolina primary.
Huckabee said the past few months have been times of deep personal reflection, even as he noted that polls put him "at or near the top" among likely Republican candidates.
He said money wasn't a problem and that his family was supportive of a run. He said he was confident of competing even in the Northeast and among less conservative members of the party.
But his heart wasn't in it.
"My answer is clear and firm," Huckabee said. "I will not seek the Republican nomination for president this year. I'm going to continue gladly doing what I do."
Even before the show, Huckabee's advisers said he was unlikely to run. Yet there was an element of doubt, as he apparently left even his closest advisers in the dark as to which way he would decide.
Huckabee only added to the tease with a series of interviews on Fox previewing his announcement, and with an email to advisers Friday night that said things were likely to get "crazier" after he revealed his plans.
Huckabee had told advisers he committed to Fox to reveal his decision first on his show. But the channel's Executive Vice President of Legal and Business Affairs Dianne Brandi said there was nothing in his contract prohibiting him from making his announcement wherever he chose.
By opting out of a bid, Huckabee leaves his network of support up for grabs in the critical early nominating states of Iowa and South Carolina where cultural conservatives hold much power in choosing the nominee.
Huckabee painted 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."
Huckabee, who has been out of public office since 2007, said he will continue helping others in campaigns for Congress, governorships and other positions who adhere to his ideals of commonsense, constitutional governance and civil discourse.
Had he chosen to run, Huckabee would have been forced to give up the lucrative media career he's enjoyed since his unsuccessful presidential bid four years ago. In addition to his TV show, Huckabee hosts a nationally syndicated radio program, gives paid speeches around the country and has even launched a series of animated videos for children on American history.
The talk show is the centerpiece of Huckabee's enterprises, which have made the one-time Baptist preacher from Hope, Ark., and 10-year governor a wealthy man with a $2.2 million beachfront home under construction in Florida. Huckabee, 55, and his wife moved their residency and voter registration to the state last year.
Making the announcement at the end of his hour-long program offered a glimpse of the celebrity life Huckabee wasn't willing to give up. He interviewed Mario Lopez of "Saved by the Bell" fame and jammed with Ted Nugent playing "Cat Scratch Fever" on the show.
His announcement was even followed up by a taped message from Donald Trump, the real estate mogul turned reality television star who has also been mulling a presidential run.
"Your ratings are terrific. You're making a lot of money. You're building a beautiful house in Florida. Good luck," Trump said. Others in the GOP race or considering it, like Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman, sent out statements praising Huckabee.
Advisers said Huckabee could have entered the race with a frontrunner status he didn't have as a former governor fresh out of office in 2008. But another Huckabee run would have brought renewed scrutiny over his support of some tax increases in Arkansas and his record on clemency - including commuting the sentence of a man who later killed four Seattle-area police officers.
Huckabee is the latest Republican to opt out of running for the chance to challenge President Barack Obama in the general election. Several other Republicans hopefuls have bowed out as well, including Haley Barbour, Mike Pence and John Thune.
That raises questions about whether some GOP aspirants view Obama as too tough to beat.
It's unclear whether Huckabee's decision closes the door ultimately on his political future. While many say he still has a bright future with his personal media empire, turning that stardom into another presidential run in 2016 would be difficult
Ed Rollins, who chaired Huckabee's 2008 campaign and had been talking with fundraisers about a 2012 Huckabee bid, said it would be difficult to find another opportunity like this.
"It was all there for him," Rollins said.
Associated Press writer Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.