Mike Huckabee isn't tamping down speculation of another presidential run. But he isn't doing much to prepare for what on Thursday he called the "sausage grinder of a campaign."
The winner of the Iowa caucuses in 2008 doesn't sound all that enthusiastic about another bid as he travels on a nationwide book tour that includes early GOP primary states. Also calling into question how seriously the former Baptist pastor is weighing a candidacy: He plans to spend part of the summer in Alaska hosting a cruise, some of his former aides aren't waiting around for him to make a decision and Huckabee even offered up kind words for President Barack Obama, his would-be rival in 2012, and his family.
"Frankly, America needs a good role model like that," Huckabee said Thursday of Obama, the nation's first black president.
As for his own timeline, Huckabee said he is in no rush to start spending money on a campaign.
"The question that you're probably going to ask is 'are you going to run?' The question that I have for America is 'do you think this message resonate with you?'" Huckabee said. "If it does, that gives me a whole lot more encouragement to go put myself through the sausage grinder of a campaign."
It's hardly the first mixed signal about his interest in the 2012 race, which so far has drawn no declared candidates.
Many of the key players from Huckabee's 2008 bid have moved on. Former campaign manager Chip Saltsman now works for freshman Republican Congressman Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee, and former campaign spokeswoman Alice Stewart took a job at the beginning of the year as a deputy to Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin, a Republican.
"It's one of those situations where he hasn't made up his mind, and we all have bills to pay, so we need to keep the money coming in," Stewart said. "In the event he decides to run, a lot of folks will revisit that."
Huckabee is doing just enough to remain a credible contender but is hardly clamoring to position himself as the front-runner in a second attempt at the White House.
Though the former governor remains a presence in Arkansas, he's no longer a resident of the state. He and his wife last year moved their residency and their voter registration to Florida, where he has a home under construction.
He has remained in contact with his supporters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina but hasn't been aggressive in his fundraising. He has maintained a national profile through his job with the Fox News Channel but hasn't rushed to insert himself into the daily back and forth the way some of his other potential rivals have.
Part of that calculation is financial; he is expected to leave his job at Fox should he run.
"I need to make sure I'm ready to give up my job to declare my candidacy," Huckabee said. "The day I say, 'I'm running,' that's the day I don't have an income."
And he will be spending a week at sea in June, playing host to tourists paying as much as $3,000 to spend seven days visiting Alaska.
Rex Nelson, a former aide to Huckabee when he was governor, said that the mixed messages aren't just an act, and he believes the former governor is truly torn about his future plans, especially when weighed against the lucrative opportunities of his television and radio jobs.
Republicans have yet to rally behind any of the potential candidates, none of whom has formally entered the race. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is in the process of putting together a presidential committee. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, another 2008 candidate, is unlikely to launch his expected campaign before April.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is expected to decide in the coming weeks. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is talking with activists and operatives about a potential campaign, as is Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania has been rolling out advisers but has yet to formally enter the race.
And Sarah Palin, her party's 2008 vice presidential nominee and former Alaska governor, has sustained a national profile and remains an open question for the Republicans.
None has yet taken the public steps of starting a campaign, in part because of the uncertainty of the field and in part because of costs.
It's a far cry from January 2007, when Huckabee joined the early flood of 2008 candidates _ just weeks after leaving office.
DeMillo reported from Little Rock, Ark.