Former President Jimmy Carter says he would be "very pleased" to see Mitt Romney as the GOP presidential nominee -- an endorsement that the former Massachusetts governor hasn't yet embraced as he seeks to win over conservative primary voters.
Carter on Thursday was speaking about Romney in the context of religion, and said he hopes Romney's Mormon faith won't be a deterrent to winning the highest office in the nation.
"I'm not taking a position, but I would be very pleased to see him win the Republican nomination," Carter told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. "I don't think anybody is going to be (President) Obama next year. But my preference obviously would be for his religious faith not to be an adverse factor in the choices made about who should be representing the Republican Party.”
Carter, a one-term president who lost to conservative hero Ronald Reagan in 1980, has become a symbol of leadership failure and is sometimes cited by critics of Obama when they want to make an unfavorable comparison to his predecessors.
The Romney campaign underscored that Carter was merely speaking to whether Romney's religion would be a hurdle and that he still supports Obama, a spokesman said.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who mounted a competitive presidential bid in 2008, advised Romney to be gracious while keeping his distance.
"The smart thing Romney needs to do is come out and say I'm glad he's endorsing me. I'll happily get support from anywhere but I don't endorse Jimmy Carter or the views he has regarding Israel and Palestine,” said Huckabee, who hosts a Fox News show every Saturday.
Carter's strong support of the Palestinians has often clashed with U.S. policy, even when Democrats control the White House. For example, Carter backs the Palestinians' bid to get the United Nations to recognize their statehood despite fierce opposition from the Obama administration and Israel, which believe in a two-state solution to stalled peace talks.
Romney wasn't the only Republican contender that Carter praised. Maddow mentioned that Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann once volunteered for Carter's presidential campaign.
"I appreciate that she helped me out," Carter said, grinning ear to ear.