Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist said he's not expecting former Govs. Mike Huckabee (Ark.) or Sarah Palin (Alaska) to run for president in 2012.

Norquist, the anti-tax activist whose opinions could shape the field of Republicans vying to challenge President Obama next year, said he doesn't plan to formally endorse any candidate, but also expressed doubt that two big names, Huckabee and Palin, would ultimately enter the race.

"I don't think Huckabee's running. ... And I don't think the lady from Alaska's running," Norquist told The Hill in a sit-down interview on Wednesday.

Both Palin and Huckabee "appear to be thinking about it," the longtime conservative activist said, but neither is staffing up in such a way as to suggest that they'll eventually run.

Both former governors might be better-suited by maintaining their influence in the GOP by keeping their name in the race for 2016, Norquist suggested, even if they pass on a race next year.

The ATR president isn't the only observer to doubt Huckabee's plans. RedState founder Erick Erickson tweeted Wednesday afternoon that Huckabee wouldn't be running, though it wasn't clear from where that information came. (Huckabee's aides sought late Wednesday to shoot down that rumor.)

Still, conservatives and political observers alike have been murmuring that neither Palin nor Huckabee would run, though advisers to both have done their best to keep those names among the group of potential candidates.

Of the other candidates, Norquist said he didn't expect to make an endorsement, especially if they all signed his group's Taxpayer Protection Pledge. Norquist mused that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) has the advantage of having fared well in 2008's presidential primaries, and he suggested that Romney could still easily explain the Massachusetts healthcare law he signed as governor, which conservatives now decry for its similarities to Obama's healthcare law.

Norquist seemed to lament Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour's decision to withdraw from the race, and suggested that Barbour, a Republican widely respected for his strategic vision, serve as chief of staff to the next president, if he or she is a Republican.

"I have re-formed the Barbour-for-chief-of-staff draft committee," Norquist said. "None of our candidates are national in the way Haley Barbour was."