Mike Huckabee's roots as a Southern Baptist preacher are coming to the fore in his now-blooming campaign for president, but he's not taking the bait when asked how he feels about rival Mitt Romney's Mormon faith.
Huckabee on Tuesday sidestepped the question about what he thinks of the opinion held by some Christian evangelicals that Mormonism is a cult.
"I am just not going to go into evaluating other people's doctrines and faiths. I think that is absolutely not a role for a president," the former Arkansas governor said.
Huckabee said that if he were running to be "president of a theological school," then his views on Mormonism would be relevant — "but to be the president of the United States I don't know that that is going to be the most important issue that I will be facing when I am sworn in."
While he said he respects "anybody who practices his faith," Huckabee said what other people believe — he named Republican rivals Romney, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Rodham Clinton — "is theirs to explain, not mine, and I'm not going to."
But his comments come at a time when religion is becoming increasingly important in the GOP race. Romney is expected to address his faith in a major speech Thursday, which he suggests has been inaccurately dubbed his "Mormon speech."
And Huckabee makes no bones about touting his own religion, calling himself a Christian leader in television ads. Huckabee says in a recent Iowa ad: "Faith doesn't just influence me. It really defines me ... Let us never sacrifice our principles for anybody's politics. Not now, not ever."
Huckabee is surging in Iowa, where Christian evangelicals, by many estimates, make up anywhere from 30 percent to 50 percent of Republicans who will attend the caucuses, set for Jan. 3. Huckabee has consolidated the support of influential religious conservatives, primarily by reaching out to a network of pastors across the state. He spoke privately Monday night to several hundred pastors gathered in Des Moines for a conference, the only presidential candidate to do so.
In 2000 — the last contested Republican primary — exit polls indicated self-described Christian conservatives made up 39 percent of Iowa's GOP caucus vote.
A Des Moines Register poll taken from Nov. 25 to 28 showed Huckabee with 29 percent in Iowa and Romney — once the uncontested Iowa frontrunner — with 24 percent. The poll’s margin of error was 4.4 percent.
Meanwhile, Romney has faced skepticism about his religion, which holds that authentic Christianity vanished a century after Jesus and was restored only through Joseph Smith, considered a prophet in the Mormon faith.
While Huckabee has amplified the issue of religion, Romney has downplayed it.
"A candidate or a president that tried to make his religion a defining feature of his campaign or his term in office would tend to divide the nation rather than bring us together," Romney said Monday in New Hampshire.
Responding in Iowa Tuesday, Huckabee said, "I don't think there is anything divisive about describing yourself and defining yourself and explaining yourself because if I don't do it, someone else is going to do it for me."
Huckabee was right. ABC reported Tuesday that a group calling itself Iowans for Some Semblance of Christian Decency has been placing anti-Huckabee fliers under the hotel doors of reporters in Des Moines. The fliers suggest Huckabee's views conflict with the teachings of the Bible.
One section of the flier criticizes Huckabee's support of educational support for the children of illegal immigrants, saying that view violates the Eighth Commandment by "stealing from U.S. citizens."
FOX News' Carl Cameron and The Associated Press contributed to this report.