Huckabee exit an opportunity for those unlike him

By ANDREW DeMILLO and THOMAS BEAUMONT | May 19, 2011 | 3:13 AM EDT

FILE - In this Feb. 24, 2011 file photo, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee speaks about his new book at the National Press Club in Washington. Huckabee's decision to forgo a shot at the presidency further muddies the field for a worthy Republican challenger to President Barack Obama, and leaves America's social conservatives without a clear candidate to throw their support behind. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — No single Republican stands ready to fill the gap that Mike Huckabee is leaving in the 2012 field for president.

Those who do benefit from his decision not to run may bear little resemblance to the former Arkansas governor and one-time Baptist minister.

GOP operatives say the opportunity may be even greater for someone with stature as a budget cutter.

A leader of Iowa social conservatives, Bob Vander Plaats, says the momentum might be going to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney or the current governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels, though Daniels hasn't taken steps to join the race. Both are likely to run on their economic records.

Early indications point to Huckabee's backers splintering among several candidates, leaving a wide-open race even more scrambled.