Mike Huckabee speaks at the Freedom Summit on April 12, 2014 in New Hampshire.
Darren McCollester—Getty Images
January 15, 2015 6:00 AM EST

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee walked away from a six-figure job at Fox News just a couple weeks ago, but don’t feel sorry for him.

As he returns to Iowa and South Carolina next week on a new book tour, the pundit-pastor-politician has visions of much bigger dollar signs in his near future: $50 million to be exact, a goal he has set for himself to fund a second presidential campaign he is now considering.

“You have to have that kind of money to be in the game a year from now,” he told TIME in a phone interview this week. “I am having people come up to me, bundlers and financiers who say, ‘You know I didn’t know you before but we think you have a real pathway to the nomination.’ ”

That wasn’t always the case. In total, Huckabee raised and spent only $16 million in the 2008 contest, a rather minor amount compared to more than $100 million spent by Mitt Romney. The money was painful to raise, and small when it came. “I spent many an hour cooling my heels in the outer offices of potential donors in ’08, and in many cases never even got my calls retuned,” he says. For a time, his campaign manager Chip Saltsman had his BlackBerry set to vibrate every time someone gave an online donation of $100 or more.

This time he says the encouragement has been broad, though he and his advisors are not yet releasing names of bundlers. “If that were not happening,” the almost-candidate says. “I would not be seriously considering anything else.”

Failing to raise enough money the biggest misstep that Huckabee carries with him from the 2008 campaign. For much of the campaign, he did not even employ a finance director to call donors, or arrange call sheets. But that is not his only regret. “In retrospect, I think we should have gone to South Carolina and stayed there instead of going to Michigan,” he says. “At the time, it looked like a good idea because we had to show we could play in states outside the South.” Huckabee came in a distant third in Michigan, behind John McCain and Romney. Huckabee came in second to McCain in South Carolina, separated by a margin of just 3%, or less than 14,000 votes. The campaign never recovered.

But money also isn’t the only variable that Huckabee expects to improve if he runs again in 2016. He thinks he will be better able to beat back the attacks from his political foes on a second go around. “Having been through this before, I am much better prepared,” he says. “After six and a half years of being on TV, writing 12 books, being on the radio every day, I think my conservative bona fides are pretty well laid out, not in what someone says I said, not in what someone distorts my comments to be, but rather in what they have actually been.”

He doesn’t plan to make a final decision on running for months, and is not yet ready to even commit to the Iowa Straw Poll this summer, where his second place finish in 2007 helped lift his campaign to victory in the state. “It would be a little premature to determine what I would or wouldn’t do in relation to the straw poll,” he said.

For now, he is officially content to simply focus on promoting his book, God, Guns, Grits and Gravy, a a restatement of his past positions wrapped in a furious culture war call to arms. He describes a nation divided between regular all-American “Bubba-ville” against the liberal elites and Wall Street financiers of “Bubble-ville,” knocks pop culture stars and Hollywood directors, and quotes country crooner Merle Haggard when discussing his foreign policy principles. The book ends, quite literally, with the entire lyric sheet from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s song “Simple Life”: “I like the simple life, the way it used to be.”

That said, Huckabee is talking like a candidate who has made up his mind. Asked what he thinks about the prospect of another Bush, Clinton or Romney topping the national party tickets, he says, “Well there hasn’t been a Huckabee yet. There is room for some new options.”

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