Newt Gingrich, the winner in the Palmetto State's GOP primary, may have benefited from South Carolinians' uneasiness with Mitt Romney's Mormon faith.
Exit polls show that 43 percent of voters who said that the candidates' religious beliefs mattered "a great deal" went for Gingrich. Only 9 percent went for Romney -- a lower percentage than he netted overall, where he is running in second. In contrast, of voters who said the religious beliefs of candidates didn't matter to them at all, Romney won 42 percent.
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who came in second in the South Carolina primary in 2008 and had strong backing from religious conservatives, said he hoped that Romney's Mormon faith did not prejudice South Carolinians.
"I'd like to believe that's not the issue," Huckabee told Fox Business host Neil Cavuto. "Four years ago, I was accused of making it an issue. It wasn't for me then, it isn't for me now. I would no more not vote for someone because they were Mormon than I would vote for somebody like Al Gore because he's a Baptist, for heaven's sake. I think that's a ridiculous reason to vote or not vote for someone, unless they've done something that's so wacky -- like mix the blood of little children together in a public ceremony."
Huckabee did add, however, that Romney may nevertheless have to address his faith to reassure Republican voters.
"I don't think he needs to necessarily have a big speech and focus entirely on it," said Huckabee. "I do think he ought to address it. He ought to address it in a very calm and thoughtful way in which he just says, 'Look, all of us have different points of views in terms of faith. I'm not going to tell you how to believe or worship. I'm running for president. I wanted to turn around the country. How you turn around your spiritual life -- that is called repentance, and take that up with your preacher, your priest or your rabbi. I want to turn this country around.'"
Huckabee said he believed that would "sort of dismiss it, make it less important."
"I do think what is happening in South Carolina tonight has a lot more to do with two things. One, revealing the volatility of the voters who just haven't really settled on anybody. One week it's Santorum and then Romney, then it's Gingrich and then Ron Paul. There is sort of a constant, 'Let's go to Baskin Robbins and each week pick out a different flavor.' The best thing that happened to Gingrich -- and Newt ought to get on the phone tonight and call John King [of CNN] and say, 'Where can I take you to the best dinner of your life?'"
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