WASHINGTON – Republican Mike Huckabee personally apologized on Wednesday to presidential rival Mitt Romney for comments he made in a New York Times interview that seemed to criticize the Mormon faith.
Huckabee came up to Romney after the GOP debate in Johnson, Iowa, to reconcile.
"I said, I would never try, ever to try to somehow pick out some point of your faith and make it an issue, and I wouldn't," Huckabee said, according to CNN.
"I've stayed away from talking about Mitt Romney's faith," he added. "I told him face-to-face, I said I don't think your being a Mormon ought to make you more or less qualified for being a president."
The former Arkansas governor had been tight-lipped about Romney's Mormon faith up until the comment which is to appear in Sunday's New York Times.
In a preview of the article posted on the New York Times website, the former Arkansas governor was quoted as saying, "Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?"
According to the Huckabee campaign, the comment was taken out of context during an extensive interview. His campaign contends that given the full context, it was "clear" that he was unwilling to answer questions on Mormonism.
Senior advisor Dr. Charmaine Yoest added, "He wants to assure persons of all faith traditions of his firm commitment to religious tolerance and freedom of worship.
"Governor Huckabee believes that one of the great strengths of our nation lies in its diversity of thought, opinion."
Huckabee himself also explained the question was not meant to be a jab at Mormonism.
"We were having a conversation over several hours, the conversation was about religion and he was trying to press me on my thoughts of Mitt Romney's religion, and I said 'I don't want to go there,'" Huckabee said to CNN.
New York Times reporter Zev Chafets had asked Huckabee whether he thought Mormonism was a religion or a cult.
"I really didn't know. Well, he was telling me things about the Mormon faith, because he frankly is well-schooled on comparative religions. As part of that conversation, I asked the question, because I had heard that, and I asked it, not to create something – I never thought it would make the story," he explained.
Last week, Huckabee had refused to comment on Mormonism even during the height of curiosity and media frenzy ahead of Romney's major speech on religion. When pressed for opinions, Huckabee responded that it wasn't his place to "go off into evaluating" other candidates' faiths, which he thinks is not the role of a president, according to The Associated Press.
The contrast between his determination to not criticize Mormonism versus the disparaging remark in the interview caused uproar.
"I think attacking someone's religion is really going too far," Romney countered on NBC's "Today" show on Wednesday. "It's just not the American way and I think people will reject that."
After making the apology, Huckabee said Romney was "gracious" in the exchange. Romney's campaign confirmed that the former Massachusetts governor accepted the apology.
Huckabee, a former Baptist pastor, recently took the lead from Romney in Iowa polls riding on the votes of evangelicals – who make up anywhere from 30-50 percent of caucus goers. The competition for Christian voters in conservative Iowa has put Huckabee and Romney in a head-to-head battle.