Huckabee, Huntsman Edge Closer to Entering the 2012 Race

Neither will be at the debate tomorrow, but they're looking like candidates

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Though they'll be skipping the not-so-star-studded first Republican primary debate tomorrow, Mike Huckabee and Jon Huntsman are making moves that indicate they're getting more serious about stepping into the 2012 race. Huckabee is holding a fundraiser in Washington, D.C., Wednesday night, and Huntsman announced Tuesday afternoon that he was forming a political action committee that will allow him to pay for staff and travel while he feels out 2012.

Many were doubtful that Huckabee was serious about running for president again, given his sweet gig at Fox News, but Wednesday night he's quietly held a fundraiser in Washington, D.C., where he's expected to talk about what he plans to do, The Wall Street Journal's Patrick O'Connor and Neil King Jr. report.

Organizers lured potential donors to the $1,000-per-person event by describing it as "a small group discussing his potential run for president." Still, the money, being raised for his Huck PAC, cannot be used on a presidential campaign. Huckabee is in the top three of most polls of Republican voters--tied for second with Sarah Palin, and behind Mitt Romney, with 15 percent in a new Quinnipiac poll--and is especially popular among religious conservatives.

Huckabee's Christian conservatives adore his strong support for Israel, but as The Daily Beast's Michelle Goldberg reports, "the aggressive Zionism of the Christian right does not translate into sensitivity toward broader Jewish concerns." Huckabee is now in a spat with the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman after Foxman rebuked Huckabee for comparing the national debt to the Holocaust. When Foxman demanded an apology, Huckabee fired back, "Israel and Jewish people need to make friends, not insult the ones they have." Goldberg reports that many evangelical conservatives embrace premillennial dispensationalism, which says that the return of the Jews to Israel will help bring about the rapture. Huckabee leads an evangelical tour of Israel that includes a stop at Megiddo--Greek for Armageddon. In the short term, Goldberg writes, conservative Jews and evangelicals have the same goals, but in the long term--with evangelicals imagining "a catastrophic world war in the Middle East and the consignment of Jews to eternal hellfire"-- not so much.

Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown noted that 58 percent of Americans say they would never vote for Sarah Palin or Donald Trump, two of the most prominent potential candidates. Republicans favored by the establishment, like Newt Gingrich, Mitch Daniels, and Tim Pawlenty get 5 percent or less. Brown explains, "Many contenders are not well known and many who are known are not liked." One of those Republicans struggling in obscurity is Huntsman, who recently resigned as President Obama's ambassador to China. Huntsman was unable to campaign while working for the Obama administration, of course, so he has some catching up to do. On Tuesday he opened H PAC, The New York Times' Jeffy Zeleny reports, which will help him raise money while he gauges his potential as a candidate. Zeleny reports he’s spent two days with advisers in a Washington hotel working on a candidacy.

Like Huckabee’s PAC, money raised for Huntsman’s can’t be used on a campaign. But his advisers say the group will just tide him over, for the next few weeks until he makes a formal decision to run the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza reports. His earlier PAC tapped former top McCain staffer John Weaver as a consultant, as well as pollster Whit Ayres.

Photos by Reuters

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