Baptists, Mormons, atheists and cocaine

Asked about religious differences, Huckabee's new hand recycles the Obama story instead.

By Tim Grieve

Published December 21, 2007 3:05PM (EST)

If Mike Huckabee wants to preserve the "aw, shucks" appeal that has made him a front-runner in Iowa, he's going to have to do something about Ed Rollins, the Reagan strategist he hired last week to serve as his national campaign manager.

Rollins appeared Thursday night on "Hardball" alongside Ron Kaufman, a senior advisor to Mitt Romney. Chris Matthews tried repeatedly to get Rollins to say whether he thought there's a meaningful difference, in politics or policy, between a Baptist like Huckabee and a Mormon like Romney. On the first go-round, Rollins dodged by recycling last week's story about Barack Obama's past drug use. "Listen," Rollins said, "I would -- I would rather be sitting here having this discussion than be sitting here talking -- accusing each other of using cocaine, which neither of our candidates ever have."

When Matthews asked again, Rollins noted that both he and Matthews are Catholic, then turned to Kaufman and said: "Ron, are you still an atheist, or have you basically converted now that you're rich?"

In Round 3 -- "Relevant to this campaign," Matthews asked, "is there any religious difference between Romney and Huckabee?" -- Rollins said that "the bottom line is that the voters themselves will make that decision."

Translation: If you're looking for somebody to say that Romney's Mormonism shouldn't matter, it isn't going to be me.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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