Mike Huckabee Exits Republican Presidential Race

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The Huckabee operation was even ready to hire state directors in key primary battlegrounds like South Carolina and Florida.

If he had sought the GOP presidential nomination, Rollins told ABC, "on Monday I could push the button and the campaign would start to unfold."

"I know I'm going to deeply disappoint a lot of people I love," Huckabee said. "So many good and dear people have put forth extraordinary effort, and they did it without any assurance that I would even mount a campaign and it pains me -- seriously pains me -- to let them down."

With Huckabee declining to enter the presidential race, the race for his endorsement is already on.

"I'm going to gladly continue doing what I do and hopefully helping other in their campaigns for Congress, governorships and other positions," he said without offering a firm indication whether he would be getting involved in presidential primary politics.

No sooner did Huckabee finish his remarks than real estate mogul and potential presidential candidate Donald Trump appeared on the screen, calling Huckabee a "terrific guy."

"A lot of people are very happy that he will not be running, especially other candidates," Trump said. "So, Mike, enjoy the show, you're ratings are terrific, you're making a lot of money, you're building a beautiful house in Florida. Good luck."

Several other possible candidates, including former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum as well former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who officially jumped into the race last week, also weighed in on Huckabee's decision.

"Had Governor Huckabee decided to run, there is no question he would have been a frontrunner in the 2012 campaign for president," Gingrich said, adding that he "will remain a major force for conservatism and he will play a major role in shaping America's future."

Huntsman said, "I'm confident that he will continue to be a positive force in the national conversation no matter his future endeavors and I look forward to his continued friendship."

And Pawlenty did not hide his goal of winning the backing of voters who might have been in Huckabee's camp.

"Mike and I agree our nation is facing big challenges and desperately needs new leadership," Pawlenty said. "And I plan to work hard to earn the support of the millions of Americans who have supported him."

In particular, Pawlenty is likely hoping to pick up some of that support in Iowa, a state where Huckabee's appeal to conservatives and evangelical Christians helped him win the caucuses there during the last presidential election cycle.

Dave Davidson, the chief organizer of the Iowa-based group, "Stuck on Huck" and the co-author of a self-published book, "More Than 57 Reasons Mike Huckabee Should Become President," was holding out hope on Saturday that Huckabee would jump into race.

"Here's a guy who can probably beat Barack Obama," Davidson said in an interview. "You've got to put your ace on the mound to strike this guy out. You've got a whole dugout full of all-stars, and you're going to send in the best guy. Mike Huckabee's the best guy."

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