updated 12/13/2007 7:53:49 AM ET 2007-12-13T12:53:49

Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee apologized to Mitt Romney on Wednesday for saying, "Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?"

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An ordained Southern Baptist minister, Huckabee asked the question in an article to be published Sunday in The New York Times, which released his quote Tuesday. Romney retorted that "attacking someone's religion is really going too far."

Huckabee apologized Wednesday, saying he had asked an innocent question during a lengthy conversation and was shocked to see it taken out of context.

"I was horrified when I read that, and I apologized to Mitt Romney, because first of all, I don't think that his being a Mormon or not being a Mormon has a thing to do with his being president."

Huckabee said his discussion with the reporter, Zev Chafets, lasted several hours. "He was saying, `But there are some different things about Mormonism.' He obviously knew more about it than I did. In the course of that conversation, honestly, I raised the question."

"But no one believed it was an innocent question; they thought I was trying to throw something out there," he added.

Huckabee said Romney responded graciously to his apology, which he offered after a Republican presidential debate in Des Moines.

Coded language?
"I just wanted to make sure that he heard directly from me, face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball, that I truly was sorry that that had come out," he said. "And it looked like I had taken some shot at his faith, and I absolutely do not, and I would not do that, and I apologized, because I felt like I owed him that."

The Times reported Huckabee's comments this way: "I asked Huckabee, who describes himself as the only Republican candidate with a degree in theology, if he considered Mormonism a cult or a religion. 'I think it's a religion,' he said. 'I really don't know much about it.'

"I was about to jot down this piece of boilerplate when Huckabee surprised me with a question of his own: 'Don't Mormons,' he asked in an innocent voice, 'believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?"'

A spokeswoman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Kim Farah, said Huckabee's question is usually raised by those who wish to smear the Mormon faith rather than clarify doctrine. She said Mormons believe God is the father of all.

Romney, asked earlier Wednesday if he thought Huckabee was speaking in coded language to evangelical Christians who support him, praised his rival as a "good man trying to do the best he can," adding, "I don't believe that the people of this country are going to choose a person based on their faith and what church they go to."

Romney is vying to become the first Mormon elected president.

Huckabee has been surging in recent public opinion polls, taking the GOP lead in Iowa and pressing closer to front-runner Rudy Giuliani in national polling.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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