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WASHINGTON - Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee says it is "unfounded" for anyone to say he has alienated the Mormon community or that he used rival Mitt Romney's LDS faith as a wedge issue.
Huckabee, talking to reporters Tuesday in Washington, blamed a single remark he made to The New York Times Magazine last year - when he asked whether Mormons believed Jesus and Satan are brothers - as the cause of the angst in the Mormon community.
The LDS Church issued a statement following that remark that acknowledged the belief that Jesus and Satan were both children of God, as well as all of humanity. Still, Huckabee's comment was seen by many as critical.
Some members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have charged that Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister and former Arkansas governor, was tapping into wariness about Mormons in campaigning against Romney. Some even raised the specter in letters to the editor that they would vote Democratic if Huckabee were the GOP nominee.
Huckabee said Tuesday he would have concern if anyone said he had estranged the Mormon community.
"In fact, if anything I have gone out of my way to say that I did not think that Mitt Romney's being a Mormon should be a factor in this election," Huckabee said in response to a question by The Salt Lake Tribune. "I have absolutely defended that and said I would be appalled if anyone voted for him or against him or for me or against me solely on the basis of religious affiliation."
The GOP candidate, at a media event organized by The Christian Science Monitor, said he has made it explicit that it's unfair for anyone to judge a contender based solely on his faith.
"Anyone who says that I have this anti-Mormon prejudice is absolutely off the mark," Huckabee said. "And it has no basis whatsoever."
Some Mormon Republicans, though, say Huckabee ran a campaign playing off the concern some Protestant evangelicals have for Mormons, viewed as heretical by some groups. Some evangelicals do not consider Mormons to be Christians.
Huckabee ran television spots in Iowa calling himself a "Christian leader," and refused to say whether he thought the LDS Church was a cult, referring that question instead to Romney.
Kirk Jowers, director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute for Politics and a Romney friend and supporter, said he wonders if Huckabee's response Tuesday was "revisionist history."
But ''I'm very happy to hear him say that," Jowers said. "And I suppose the best thing to do is accept him at his word. However, his approach to Romney's religion seemed very different in the days leading up to Iowa."
Huckabee, who says he has much respect for Mormons, including Sen. Orrin Hatch and Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, insists the comment he made to The New York Times Magazine reporter was taken out of context and even the author of the piece didn't understand why people were making a big deal out of it.
Huckabee said he personally apologized to Romney for "any pain that would have caused."
Romney suspended his presidential campaign last week, saying he was stepping aside for the good of his party so Republicans could unite around the front-runner, Sen. John McCain. Huckabee says he would be disenfranchising voters if he dropped out of the race and says he will go on until a candidate has enough delegates to claim the nomination outright.