Mike Huckabee Exits Republican Presidential Race

VIDEO: Mike Huckabees decision to forgo White House run leaves GOP field open.
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Count former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee out of the 2012 presidential race.

"All the factors say go, but my heart says no," Huckabee said tonight. "My answer is clear and firm, I will not seek the Republican nomination for president this year."

After more than a day of will-he-or-won't-he speculation about his intentions, Huckabee took to the airwaves of Fox News, which broadcasts his weekly television show, to make the announcement. He said the past few months "have been a time of deep personal reflection."

"I had come to believe that I would begin the race for president," he said, "but I won't be."

Before he broke that news, however, he listed a litany of reasons why he should.

"Polls have consistently put me at or near the top to be the Republican nominee," he said, and added he no longer had concerns "about raising the necessary funds" to mount a campaign.

"I don't have an issue with my family being supportive," he said, noting that his wife and children were supportive. Huckabee described his decision-making process as a "spiritual" journey.

"I'm a believer and follower of Jesus Christ and that relationship is far more important to me than any political office," he said.

Just hours before Saturday's announcement, Huckabee, 55, had piqued the interest of his supporters and political observers after word leaked out that he sent a letter to his closest confidantes hinting that "things will get even crazier" once "I pull the trigger Saturday night."

Until the show, even his closest advisers said Huckabee's decision remained a mystery to them, but some surmised that he would pass on a presidential bid.

"I have to assume he's probably not running," Huckabee's 2008 campaign manager Ed Rollins said in an interview with ABC News before the announcement.

"I wish him well," Rollins said after Huckabee's show ended. "Obviously he made a tough and personal decision."

"He's never gotten up and looked in the mirror and said, 'There's the next president of the United States," Rollins said. "If you don't do that, you're not going to be the most viable candidate."

In the e-mail message he sent to close aides Friday, Huckabee wrote that it was his "sworn obligation to Fox" to announce his 2012 plans on their network first, referring to "promises" and "some possible legal considerations."

But Dianne Brandi, executive vice president of legal and business affairs at Fox News, said in a statement in the midst of Huckabee's show: "There is nothing in his contract prohibiting him from making his announcement where he chooses."

Had Huckabee decided to jump into the race, he would have almost certainly enjoyed a significant base of support at the outset.

He has been at or near the top of polls nationally as well as in critical early nominating states like Iowa -- a state he won during the 2008 Republican presidential primary. The most recent ABC News-Washington Post poll released last month put Huckabee in third place in the not-yet-settled Republican field, behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and real estate mogul Donald Trump.

He also would have been able to take command of a campaign-in-waiting that Rollins, his long-time adviser, had been building up over the last six months. Rollins had lined up a campaign manager, a communications director and a finance director.

"I delivered him the people that could go raise $50 million," Rollins said, adding that he had put together "an all-star operative team far more experienced than those who we had last time."

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