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Mike Huckabee

Mike Huckabee

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(AP) — Mike Huckabee is turning into a front-runner for his party's 2012 presidential nomination almost by default.

A pair of sex scandals involving Republicans once touted as White House contenders and the abrupt exit of another hopeful from the public stage are helping Huckabee boost his odds as he weighs another presidential run.

"Given that the dominoes are falling, the fact that he's still standing works to his benefit," said Hal Bass, political science professor at Ouachita Baptist University.

Huckabee already had plenty working in his favor for another run at the White House in 2012.

His surprising show in the nominating contests last year, despite a lag in fundraising, already gave him a leg up on other contenders considering another bid.

And the former Arkansas governor has already begun visiting Iowa, home of his victory in the leadoff caucuses in 2008.

But he says Republicans need to be focused on the midterm elections, not 2012.

"Anybody who already has decided right now they are definitely running for president doesn't need to be, because they think it's all about them," Huckabee said in Iowa last month.

"We don't know what our country is going to be like in two years.

I can't make that determination right now." Huckabee's value as a presidential candidate, however, has gotten a boost primarily from the downfall of others within the Republican Party.

Admissions of affairs by Nevada Sen.

John Ensign and South Carolina Gov.

Mark Sanford, both considered at one time potential GOP contenders, have helped Huckabee.

In other words, the Baptist minister with a covenant marriage is starting look a lot better by comparison.

Huckabee may also get some help from Alaska Gov.

Sarah Palin's surprise announcement that she'll step down as governor, midway through her first term, later this month.

It's unclear whether the former Republican vice presidential nominee's announcement is a prelude to a 2012 bid, or an exit from politics entirely.

Huckabee says he's still a fan of Palin, but questioned the Alaska governor's move.

"Well, it's a risky strategy, and nobody knows whether it's going to pay off or not," Huckabee said on "Fox News Sunday" earlier this month.

"And even if she did get out, primarily because of a feeling of being chased, that's not going to stop if she continues in politics.

The only way that stops is for her to completely exit the stage and the spotlight." Huckabee also is raising the possibility that her explanation that she was dogged by critics who cost her state millions in legal fees is a potential target should the two become rivals for the White House.

"Well, if that had been the case for me, I'd have quit about my first month, because I was a Republican governor in a state where 89 percent of my legislature were Democrats," Huckabee said.

"Been there, done that." Republican strategist Bill Vickery said that Huckabee is in a good position to try another White House run, especially with his work as a talk show host on Fox News and with a regular radio program.

Huckabee has also been keeping a high profile through his political action committee.

"I think the best Mike Huckabee can do right now is continue to do what he's been doing and utilize all his medida exposure and watch some of the other Republican would-be contenders shoot themselves in the foot," Vickery said.

Huckabee, however, will need to avoid shooting his own foot in the process.

Stung by gaffes in the past, Huckabee has even more opportunities to say something embarassing through his regular talk show chatter.

"That's the one aspect of his career he's got to watch out for," Vickery said.

"Literally everything he says on his show will come back up in a campaign." Whether Huckabee's stock will continue to rise remains to be seen, and a lot can change between now and the 2012 campaign season.

"I don't think many people are paying attention right now," said Merle Black, professor of politics at Emory University in Atlanta.

"We're three years away and who knows what the American political landscape will look like at that time." ___ DeMillo covers Arkansas government and politics for The Associated Press.,0,82080.story
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