Former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee says he loves Mormons and believes they make the most effective public servants in America.
"Utah doesn't need to think there is a problem with me," Huckabee said on the KSL Radio Doug Wright Show Friday morning.
Huckabee has received some criticism in Utah for comments he has made about fellow former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and about some of the church's religious beliefs.
Romney received 90 percent of the vote in Utah's Republican Party presidential primary just over a year ago.
In a 12-minute interview, set up with several major radio stations across the nation, Wright asked Huckabee, a born-again Christian and former governor of Arkansas, about his comments concerning Romney.
Huckabee admitted that he saw a "different Romney" than the man he knew as a fellow GOP governor. (Romney served one term as governor of Massachusetts.)
During the presidential primary campaign Romney "was not the Mitt I knew," Huckabee said. "You could ask all the guys" who ran in the GOP primaries, said Huckabee, and they would agree that backstage, in public debates and campaigning, Romney acted differently than when he was governor or otherwise out of an intra-party race.
Huckabee said that Romney's "attitude and atmosphere" around him was perhaps caused because "he was surrounded by people who gave him very bad advice" during Romney's presidential run.
"Boy, do I ever know" that he is not well-liked in Utah, said Huckabee. But, he added, "I have never said anything unkind about Mormons."
When "11 words were completely misconstrued" when spoken about the LDS religion in a long New York Times profile of him, Huckabee said he "immediately" apologized publicly to Romney and church members in general.
Huckabee said there is no religious test in running for office. "I defend Mormons running for office."
He said when he saw the backlash against the LDS Church following the bitter Proposition 8 race in California last November, he was one of the first to say "I was gratified and proud" to see the church stand up for what it believes in.
Huckabee went on to list Mormon politicians that he likes and admires. Current GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. "would make an outstanding president" of the United States, he said. (Huntsman backed GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the Republican primaries.)
Huckabee also talked about current economic problems, his opposition to the "bailout" by the federal government of some private businesses and his support of what he calls his Fair Tax basically a national sales tax on consumption. He would do away with taxing income and all other elements of productivity.
Saying he may visit Utah soon, he added: "It pains me" that some people think he has said "bad things" about the LDS Church. "It simply is not true."Utahns' "misinformation (about him) were part of the presidential campaign and I wrote my book (to set the record straight) because that is totally not who I am. Utah is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and I want to go there and not have eggs and rotten vegetables thrown at me."