Does Mike Huckabee still want to be president?
IN NEW YORK Anyone who thinks presidential ambition is an incurable condition hasn't spent much time lately with Mike Huckabee.
The man who came in second in the 2008 GOP primaries isn't exactly ruling out another run in 2012. But he doesn't sound all that eager to jump right back into the fray, either.
"I'm not one who thinks the future of the world is depending on whether I run for president," the former Arkansas governor said in an interview.
The truth is, there were many things about the presidential campaign grind that Huckabee didn't much like the last time around.
Don't look for him in the early presidential debates, which begin just over two months from now, for instance. He doesn't have fond memories of standing on those crowded stages during the last campaign, fighting for airtime and answering question after question about Iraq.
"We just rehashed the same stuff, over and over. I was bored with it," Huckabee said. "It was the same tripe, and I found it just incredibly disgusting, and ultimately meaningless."
Nor was he particularly sorry to have skipped this year's Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, a traditional stop for GOP presidential contenders, which was underway even as he was giving this interview. "It's a showcase of just people coming out to get more exposure," he said.
So instead of throwing red meat to the conservative faithful, Huckabee was tucking into a breakfast of eggs and butter-slathered pancakes at a trendy New York hotel overlooking Times Square. His much-discussed diet - he famously lost more than 100 pounds after a diabetes diagnosis in 2003 and wrote a book about eating right - is apparently on hiatus.
It would indeed be tough for Huckabee to return to that budget-motel existence in Dubuque and Ottumwa, now that he is a bona fide media star. Thanks in large part to the celebrity he built in that losing presidential campaign, the former Baptist preacher is making serious money. Huckabee's various gigs include a weekly television show on Fox News, Paul Harvey-style commentaries on some 600 radio stations and a packed schedule of speaking engagements. In June, he'll be headlining a week-long cruise to Alaska.
When Huckabee and his wife, Janet, picked out the lot for the house they are building on a Florida beach, "We just looked at each other and started laughing. We thought, can you believe we can do this?" he said. "Our first apartment was $40 a month. Our closet in this house will probably be as large as that tiny little apartment."
And how much will such a palace cost? "Hadn't finished it yet. I honestly don't know," he said, dodging the question with practiced amiability. He did note, however, that the supposed pictures of it that a blogger posted on the Internet are actually of a house under construction down the street.
"It could be that I've found my niche," he said. "I may be doing what I need to be doing, which is very fulfilling."