When Fox News pushed Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich off the air over their preparations to make a run at the Republican presidential nomination, it appeared to signal that two other Fox contributors — Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee — weren’t entering into the 2012 campaign.  While Palin has remained mum, Huckabee has been more public with his uncertainty.  However, Real Clear Politics reports today that Huckabee has begun testing the waters in a key state, indicating that he may be getting more serious about a summer entrance:

Huckabee also received some more discreet — yet equally enthusiastic – – encouragement when he huddled behind closed doors with some of his most influential supporters in the state: former South Carolina Governor David Beasley, senior adviser Mike Campbell, HuckPAC executive director Hogan Gidley and former South Carolina campaign spokesman Adam Piper.

“There was a very candid and frank conversation about 2008 and about things we could’ve done better,” Piper related. “And we talked about 2012.”

If he runs, Huckabee might be poised to repeat his 2008 victory in the Iowa caucuses. But his challenge figures to be steeper in South Carolina, where he finished second last time around to eventual Republican nominee John McCain.

Although Huckabee apparently has not yet made up his mind about another White House run, his South Carolina team-in-waiting is unanimous in agreeing that he could pull it off, even if he gets a later start than his rivals.

There are a few Republicans who can afford to wait longer to get in, although not that much longer.  Sarah Palin probably has the most flexibility, with her built-in Tea Party base, although Michele Bachmann’s decision to tap into that base would put pressure on Palin to commit earlier now than perhaps needed before.  The rest of the presumed Republican pack doesn’t necessarily get a tremendous draw from the Tea Party, with the exception of Herman Cain, which is why the rest need to follow a more traditional path and get as much organizing done as early as possible.

The two major candidates in the 2008 race can afford to wait a little, but not long.  Romney has already all but started his campaign, opting for an earlier start and a jump on organizing.  Huckabee would have been able to wait until Labor Day or at least the start of August to make a decision, but he and Romney will be fighting for the same organizational resources, especially if Palin jumps in and grabs Tea Party backers.

Don’t underestimate Huckabee’s ability to establish a major campaign in a short period.  He had been a dark-horse candidate for most of the 2008 run and ended up coming in second place in delegates in his first run.  If he’s organizing in South Carolina already, he may well end up being the early front-runner after Labor Day.  This looks like he’s starting to get serious about doing just that, which prompts the question of when Fox News will furlough Huckabee and make it official.