If Mike Huckabee does decide to jump into the 2012 presidential race, it may not come any time soon.
The former Arkansas governor made a case Monday for waiting as long as possible before getting in, saying that there was little advantage to building a large campaign structure a year and a half before the election.
"Candidates have to make decisions based on what's good for their campaign and their message," Huckabee told reporters. "The process is already, in my mind, too long."
Polls consistently show Huckabee, now a television personality and best-selling author, at the top of the prospective GOP field, along with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. And he is especially popular in states that will host early contests in 2012, such as Iowa and South Carolina.
Huckabee became a short-lived political phenomenon when he won the Iowa caucuses in 2008, but his campaign soon sputtered.
He cited fellow Arkansan Bill Clinton as an example of someone who benefitted from holding off, stressing that Clinton didn't enter the race against President George H.W. Bush until October 1991. And he said that former Sen. Fred Thompson, who waited until September 2007 to join the GOP field in 2008, "could have wiped the floor with the rest of us" had he brought more energy to his campaign.
A late bid would not hurt him in Iowa, Huckabee said, because voters there make up their minds late in the process. "Iowa is a great state for me," he said. "This idea you have to get out there real early and get everyone locked up — well, that isn't going to happen anyway."
Huckabee said his upcoming three-week tour for his new book, "A Simple Government," will help him gauge whether support exists for a presidential bid. Like many potential GOP candidates, his political message during the trip will revolve around the burgeoning federal debt and addressing Social Security and Medicare spending.
He said a government shutdown, now a looming possibility after the House last week passed $61 billion in spending cuts for the current fiscal year, might be "preferable" if it focuses the public on issues surrounding the debt and the deficit.
Huckabee said he would be more interested in running for president if he would not be constantly barraged, as he was in 2008, by questions about the sustainability of his political operation. "If I thought this was going to be an endeavor where we would get lost in the machinery of campaign rather than message of the campaign, it's much harder for me to get truly excited about getting out there again," he said.
The former Baptist minister would lose his Fox News show, as well as his ABC radio commentary gig, if he entered the race. He said he would be "very deliberate and methodical" in making a decision.
Huckabee's 41-city tour will take him (as luck would have it) to Iowa and South Carolina — as well as to Texas, Louisiana and Tennessee, among other states.