Mike Huckabee announced Saturday that he will not run for president in 2012, eliminating one of the key frontrunners in the GOP nomination race.
"All the factors say go, but my heart says no," the former Arkansas governor declared during the final segment of his weekly Fox News show.
His statement comes after months of speculation about his political future--and Huckabee, who has always enjoyed a little political drama, played up the suspense until the final moments.
On Friday, the ex-governor teased he would make a "major announcement" on his Fox show, immediately prompting a firestorm of speculation in the media and among his former top aides, who said they hadn't been told of his decision and didn't think he would run.
But in a separate appearance on Fox News Friday night, Huckabee warned that his former aides didn't know what they were talking about. In an email to friends and family that leaked Saturday morning, Huckabee said "once I pull the trigger Saturday night, things will get even crazier, as if that's possible."
The ex-governor waited until the final minutes of his hour-long show to announce his 2012 decision--forcing viewers to sit through perhaps the oddest 55 minutes of political television ever.
In the run-up to his announcement, Huckabee interviewed actor Mario Lopez, best known as A.C. Slater from "Saved by the Bell, " about diets. In the second-to-last segment of the show, Huckabee played bass with rocker Ted Nugent on his raunchy hit, "Cat Scratch Fever"--an odd musical choice for a former Baptist minister on the cusp of announcing a possible presidential run.
Speaking to viewers in the final minutes of his show, Huckabee pointed to polls showing him as a frontrunner in the 2012 race. He said his family was on board for another presidential run and said he believed he would be able to raise the money necessary for a White House bid.
But Huckabee admitted his heart just wasn't in it.
"My answer is clear and firm," Huckabee declared. "I will not seek the Republican nomination for president this year. I'm going to continue doing what I do."
Huckabee's decision leaves a gaping hole in what was already a slow-moving GOP primary. The former governor had been the top choice for many social conservatives in the race, and it's unclear to whom that voting base will turn.
Three candidates who hope to benefit from Huckabee's decision--Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman--were quick to issue statements Saturday night praising Huckabee--no doubt knowing his endorsement will be a huge get in the upcoming 2012 primary.
"It is unfortunate that we will not have his voice--or his bass guitar--in the presidential debate, as our party would have benefited from his involvement," Huntsman said. "Yet 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."
(Photo of Huckabee: Charlie Neibergall/AP)