LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Mike Huckabee always had an eye for business opportunities. As governor of Arkansas, he churned out books on topics ranging from youth violence to weight loss to supplement his official salary. As a Republican presidential candidate, he ducked off the campaign trail in 2008 at the height of the race to do paid speeches, including one in the Cayman Islands.
Since he left office, Huckabee has made himself a multitasking, moneymaking conglomerate, with a Fox News Channel show, a nationally syndicated radio program, speaking engagements, book deals, novelty sales and even a newly launched series of children’s videos.
Now, his decision on whether to move toward another run for president -- which he’ll announce on his television show Saturday night -- may come down to whether he’s willing to cut back those revenue streams to put his political career first again. His top advisers say he hasn’t told them what he’ll do, which makes them think he’s probably going to stick with the money, rather than go for the White House.
If Huckabee -- who won the Iowa Republican caucuses in 2008 and has been near the top of recent public polls of possible 2012 candidates -- were going to run, “I think there would have been a core group of us who would have received a phone call by now,” said Mike Campbell, who chaired Huckabee’s South Carolina campaign in 2008. But, he said, he hasn’t heard anything.
Ed Rollins, Huckabee’s 2008 campaign chairman, said he’s drawn the same conclusion from the fact that he doesn’t know Huckabee’s decision. “I assume the fact I don’t means he’s not going to run.” Rollins had been contacting fundraisers about a potential Huckabee campaign, but said he put those conversations on hold about a week ago because of Huckabee’s hesitancy.
Huckabee had hinted months ago that he was reluctant to give up his media empire, saying in a February interview: “The day I say, ‘I’m running,’ that’s the day I don’t have an income.”
Fox ended the contracts of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum as they prepared to make their White House bids. The executive producer of Huckabee’s show said Friday that Huckabee would reveal his plans during the program, said the former governor hasn’t told anyone at Fox News his decision.
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.
The show, which launched in 2008, is a mashup of pop culture and politics that reflects Huckabee’s gregarious personality and grab bag of interests. His interviews have ranged from a sit-down with First Lady Michelle Obama on childhood obesity to a talk with Bradley Cooper, star of “The Hangover.” It averages around 1.2 million a viewers in its Saturday night slot, handily beating shows during the same time period on CNN and MSNBC. Huckabee also makes regular appearances as a commentator on other Fox programs.
In addition to Fox, Huckabee appears on more than 500 radio stations nationwide with his Paul Harvey-esque “The Huckabee Report.” The three-minute program, which airs three times a day on weekdays, features Huckabee holding forth on a variety of topics.
Talking for a living has been a natural fit for a candidate most remembered in the 2008 race for his quips and comebacks in campaign debates.
“He’s a good broadcaster,” said Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers, the leading trade publication on talk radio. “He actually could have a great career in radio and television....He’s a very personable guy and he has what it takes to be a media star.”
Huckabee’s media talent helped propel him to the governor’s mansion, but his eagerness to exploit it commercially sometimes raised concerns. In 1998, Huckabee released a book about juvenile violence— “Kids Who Kill”—a few months after four students and one teacher were killed in a shooting at a Jonesboro, Ark., middle school. He received a $25,000 advance, and some victims’ family members complained the governor was cashing in on the tragedy.
Huckabee also worked the paid speaking circuit, even taking a break from the campaign trail before Wisconsin’s primary to fly to the Cayman Islands to give a paid speech. Huckabee defended the move then, telling reporters: “I have to make a living.”
Just how wealthy Huckabee’s ventures have made him is unknown since he hasn’t had to file any financial disclosure reports since the 2008 campaign.
Fox and Citadel Media, which syndicates his radio show, would not say how much his contracts are for, though published reports have said he receives $500,000 a year for his Fox program. Premiere Speakers Bureau books Huckabee’s speeches, and lists him as one of its most popular speakers, alongside fellow Fox host Glenn Beck and CNN’s Anderson Cooper. The bureau does not list his speaking fee, but Alabama congressional hopeful Les Phillip paid $33,990 to have Huckabee speak at an event for him in 2009.
Along with his speeches, Huckabee also hawks a number of items on his website, including an autographed guitar for $125 and a set of guitar picks for $5.
This week Huckabee announced the launch of “Learn Our History,” a series of animated educational videos aimed at children available for purchase on DVD. One video clip shows children taking a time machine to learn about Ronald Reagan.
Rex Nelson, a longtime aide from the governor’s office, said that in a way the TV and radio gigs are ones “he’d been training for his entire life.”
“He’s making a good deal of money and having a good time at the same time,” Nelson said. “That’s a tough combination to beat.”