WASHINGTON—Onetime Republican rivals Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney aren't running against each other this time, but they sparred anew in an interview broadcast Saturday as Romney sought the support of the socially conservative former Arkansas governor and the voters that backed him in droves three years ago.
Huckabee welcomed Romney to his Fox News show for a cordial get-together that was dramatically different in tone than their sharp exchanges during the 2008 campaign. The format provided Romney with an outlet to reach out to socially conservative voters as he seeks to close the gap on front-runner Rick Perry in the polls, with Huckabee pressing him on issues dear to those voters, such as abortion and gay marriage.
"There's still concerns that some of the social conservatives have," Huckabee said. "Would you be a pro-life president and what would that mean for you? How would you give some assurance that that's not something they have to worry about if Mitt Romney is president?"
Romney said he would appoint conservative Supreme Court justices. And he defended his Massachusetts health care plan, saying he would have backed an amendment to the Massachusetts constitution to prevent the state from subsidizing abortion.
The interview reflected Huckabee's hopes to influence a presidential contest he opted out of in May. Republican hopefuls have lobbied for Huckabee's support after he decided not to run, and Huckabee made appearances with several of them in August in Iowa. But he's remained largely on the sidelines of the presidential race, even if his endorsement would carry weight with social conservatives, particularly in Iowa.
Huckabee beat Romney in the 2008 caucuses there, but it's not unfathomable that he would support the former Massachusetts governor this time around.
In the interview, he appeared to be laying the groundwork for such a decision, which would mark a sharp turnaround. When Huckabee announced his decision not to run in 2012, he pointedly snubbed Romney by naming five potential candidates with "strong positions" on abortion and gay marriage. Romney was not among them.
But neither was Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who wasn't running at the time. Huckabee and Perry also have a history of animosity. Perry endorsed former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani over Huckabee in 2008.
As for his relationship with Romney, Huckabee joked about their past run-ins.
"They were really were wondering, would we be able to sit in the same room and be civil to each other," Huckabee said. "I think we've proven that we can be civil."