POLITICS
01/03/2015 07:45 pm ET Updated Jan 04, 2015

Mike Huckabee Leaves Fox News, Will Make Decision On 2016 By Spring

Mike Huckabee is quitting Fox News so he can mull a 2016 presidential run.

The Republican former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee ended his popular Fox News program on Saturday night, and said an announcement on whether he is pursuing a presidential run in 2016 would be made by late spring.

"That's it for the 'Huckabee' show," the host said on Saturday night, adding, "As we say in television, stay tuned. There's more to come." A statement from Huckabee said, "I won't make a decision about running until late in the spring of 2015, but the continued chatter has put Fox News into a position that is not fair to them."

He had been hosting the political commentary show "Huckabee" on Fox News for more than six years.

There has been much speculation over whether he would seek the nomination for 2016, and the conflict that the move could create given his role at Fox News. By leaving the network now, Huckabee frees himself up to pursue a the nomination without breaking the network's policy against commentator's forming exploratory committees or seriously intending to run for office.

A Fox News spokesperson confirmed his departure to CNN. It was not clear what would happen to the slot occupied by his weekend program.

As the Washington Post noted, Fox News terminates its relationships with commentators when they launch a bid for office. Prior to his announcement on Saturday, a Fox News executive had said the network was scrutinizing Huckabee's political activity and "evaluating his current status," CNN reported.

Signing off, Huckabee said that he hoped to make guest appearances on the network, and thanked its chairman Roger Ailes for supporting his program.

Huckabee has signaled that he is open to a run in recent months. The Republican "is reconnecting with activists and enlisting staff to position himself" and scouting real estate for a presidential campaign headquarters, the Washington Post reported in November. Huckabee said he was better prepared financially to run back in September, according to the Washington Examiner. Earlier in 2014, Huckabee contrasted himself to another expected candidate, Hillary Clinton, criticizing her track record on foreign policy, Politico reported.

Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses in 2008, but his bid for the Republican nomination failed. In 2011, he teased his audiences with an announcement in a similar fashion, but ended up saying he would not pursue the 2012 presidential nomination.

Huckabee is currently leading polls for the Iowa Republican Presidential Caucus, according to a survey of data by Real Clear Politics. A 2014 Iowa exit poll had him receiving the best response among potential candidates, 19 percent of Republican voters there saying they wanted him to be the nominee, the Post reported. He is to speak at an event in the state with other leading Republicans this month. Most of his 2008 campaign team is ready for another go, according to the Post.

Earlier on Saturday, Huckabee teased a "very important announcement" in a post on Facebook.

Huckabee is to release a new book on January 20, "God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy," and go on a book tour to promote it. HIs popularity among social conservatives has grown since his last foray onto the national stage. Bob Vander Plaats, an influencer among evangelicals in Iowa said in November, "Huckabee is positioned very well. People love him. He left but never left. He’s on Fox News in people’s living room on Saturday or Sunday," according to the Post.

Supporters of expected Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul (R-Ky.) were apparently buying up ad space on Google searches for "Huckabee announcement" and "Huckabee common core," CNN's Ashley Killough pointed out. Huckabee has flipped positions on Common Core, a set of national standards for what K-12 students should know. In addition to the Google ad space purchases, persons mentioning Huckabee on Twitter could see promoted tweets from Paul backers, TIME's Zeke Miller noted.

More from the Associated Press:

The former Baptist preacher and Arkansas chief executive — he led the state from 1996 to 2007 — is a favorite among social conservatives. While hosting the TV show he has published books, appeared at conservative conferences around the country and offered harsh criticism of President Barack Obama's policies.

Huckabee has been particularly critical of the nation's swing toward accepting gay marriage. In October, after the Supreme Court rejected appeals from five states that sought to prohibit marriage by same-sex couples, he said: "It is shocking that many elected officials, attorneys and judges think that a court ruling is the 'final word.' It most certainly is not."

He campaigned last fall for several Republican office-seekers — among them Senate candidates Joni Ernst in Iowa, David Perdue in Georgia, Tom Cotton in Arkansas and Mike Rounds in South Dakota. Rounds was national chairman of Huckabee's 2008 presidential campaign.

Huckabee, 59, won the Iowa caucuses in 2008, finishing ahead of Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, John McCain and Ron Paul. He came in third, however, in New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary, behind McCain and Romney. McCain emerged as the leader in the primaries that followed and Huckabee ended his campaign that March.

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