Report: Huckabee releases members of his potential South Carolina team? Update: Denial

Very surprising if true.

We’ve been told that former Ark. Gov. Mike Huckabee, a rumored candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, is giving his former S.C. supporters the nod to seek work on other presidential campaigns. The word is that he’s told South Carolina staffers that they have his blessing for them to peddle their wares elsewhere. If this is as true as it appears, it’s the second major shakeup. Monday, Miss. Gov. Haley Barbour surprised everyone but himself when he announced that he would not seek the GOP nod…

So, how does that affect the playing field here? Obviously, U.S. Rep. Newt Gingrich is the presumptive No. 1, in that he has a record and the money and the organization to outlast most other candidates. And in therms of how we see the race right now, Donald Trump rises to second. U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum are also moving up the chart.

Any corroborating evidence that he’s finally reached a decision on whether to run? Maybe:

Bill Shine, [Fox News’s] executive vice president for programming, told The Daily Beast that “like we did with Gingrich and Santorum, we are continuing to monitor the situation and will take action if and when we think it is necessary.” Fox has planned a meeting with Huckabee in the near future to discuss the matter, said Shine.

Huckabee said the notion that Fox is pressuring him over the situation is “total nonsense. Your source is full of it,” he told me by email. “No pressure at all. Fox has been very understanding and they know and I know that if I take steps to be a candidate (ask for money, support, or set up a committee), then I will step aside. That’s been understood from the beginning.”

True, but some executives are concerned about Huckabee continuing to host a weekend show while stoking interest in a possible second presidential campaign. “It’s getting uncomfortable,” said a Fox insider.

If the pressure’s on from Fox to make up his mind then, yeah, maybe his mind’s now made up and he’s passing on the race. But in that case, why did former SC Gov. David Beasley, a prominent Huck supporter and likely member of his team in the state, tell Politico just yesterday that Haley Barbour’s departure from the race “overwhelmingly benefits” Huckabee there? Not the sort of soundbite you’d expect from someone who suspects the end is near. Beasley’s right, too, that Barbour’s departure is good news for Huck, and not just in South Carolina. Mitch Daniels is the obvious winner of the Haley sweepstakes, but Daniels still might not run. If he doesn’t, Huckabee’s stands a fair chance of winning Barbour’s backing and, crucially, his fundraising help. Even if Daniels does run and, as expected, Barbour joins his team, Mitch the Knife might not be in the race for long. He’s a long enough shot to win over Iowa’s social conservatives that I’m not sure he’d even bother campaigning there, and he’d have a tough climb in New Hampshire against Romney and Pawlenty, each of whom would see the state as must-win. Realistically he’d be finished if he didn’t win either state; once he dropped out, Barbour would be a free agent again and Huckabee could pick him up on the way to South Carolina, Florida, or even later. The truth may hurt but it’s still the truth — Huck’s path to the nomination (via Iowa and South Carolina) is clearer than any other candidate’s except possibly Romney’s, so if he really is out, he’s throwing away a plum opportunity. Like I say, surprising.

Update: Still no decision, says Team Huck.