Fox News Contract Weighed Heavily In Huckabee's Decision

In a November 2009 interview, Mike Huckabee said that if he ever decided against running for president, there was a big reason: Fox News.

“The reason I wouldn't is because this Fox gig I've got right now, Chris, is really, really wonderful,” Huckabee told Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace.

“A lot of it depends on how the elections turn out next year and whether Roger Ailes continues to like my show on the weekends,” Huckabee later added. “And if all those things factor in, you know, it's less likely than more likely, just because I would have to see that the Republicans would be willing to unite behind me.”

Tonight on his Fox News program, roughly a year and a half later, Huckabee announced that he would not seek the GOP nomination for president.

“All the factors say go, but my heart says no,” Huckabee said.

In the months prior to his final decision, Huckabee repeatedly mentioned his happiness at Fox News when discussing whether he would run.

Last November, Huckabee told Megyn Kelly that “I'm right now very content. I have this wonderful gig at Fox News Channel. It's terrific. I do radio every day.” On March 2, Huckabee told Bill O'Reilly that he would make a decision in the summer but “right now I'm under contract with Fox. I'm honoring that contract. I like what I do, and I'm going to stick with it for the time being” (transcripts via Nexis).

In February, Huckabee explained to reporters that “I need to make sure I'm ready to give up my job to declare my candidacy. The day I say, 'I'm running,' that's the day I don't have an income.”

The loss of income would have come at an inopportune time for Huckabee, who is building a multi-million dollar home in Florida. Huckabee's Fox News contract reportedly pays him $500,000 a year. He also files a radio report three times each weekday for Citadel Media (a Citadel spokesman declined to disclose to Media Matters how much Huckabee's radio contract is worth, citing company policy).

Huckabee's Fox colleagues have noted that the channel provides a platform that's difficult to give up. In January, Chris Wallace told Brian Kilmeade that Huckabee has a “tough decision” because “everybody thinks that oh, well, Fox is sitting there boosting candidates. I have a theory that in fact they make life so pleasant for these folks like Mike Huckabee, I'm not sure Mike Huckabee wants to go campaign. I think he loves what he's doing here at Fox.”

“Yeah, I think you're right,” Kilmeade replied. “I think he loves being a host. I think he likes doing that.”

Had Huckabee ultimately decided to run, his Fox News position would have placed him in a strong spot. As Huckabee put it, he “probably speak[s] to more Republican voters at Fox News than on any other forum.” Media Matters calculated that in 2010, Huckabee appeared on Fox News for a total of almost 48 hours, and estimated that advertisers would have spent about $31 million for Huckabee's airtime.

Huckabee has used his airtime to strengthen his political organization Huck PAC. He repeatedly used his Fox News program to tout the address of an email catcher website run by his PAC and has issued regular solicitations to give “feedback” to, which links to his PAC's website. Huckabee has also hosted PAC-promoted candidates on his program.

Huckabee is one of five current and former Fox Newsers who have considered 2012 presidential runs - a number that, as the New York Times' Brian Stelter noted, “has no precedent on American television.” Current candidates Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich both had their contributor contracts terminated and contributors John Bolton and Sarah Palin have yet to announce their decisions on 2012.

Of the five, Huckabee had arguably the most to lose since he was the only one with a regular program. A May 5 Politico article reported that a source familiar with Fox News' discussions with Huckabee said that his contract “explicitly allows for him to run for president, or to be picked as someone's vice president but does not have a suspension provision -- meaning Huckabee would have to be fired outright, something that seems unlikely to happen.”

In the end, Huckabee wasn't willing to do that. His decision not only affects the 2012 playing field but also reaffirms Fox News' unprecedented role in Republican Party politics.