What happened
Political analysts said Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee is staying out front in Iowa polls in part because he has successfully used rival Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith as a “wedge issue.” Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, aired a TV ad touting himself as a “Christian leader,” and asked in a New York Times Magazine article being published Sunday, “Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?" (The Salt Lake Tribune) Huckabee apologized. Romney said Thursday the "smear" was familiar but that he accepted the apology. (National Review Online)

What the commentators
It’s hard to take Huckabee’s apology at face value, said Katherine Q. Seelye in The New York Times. As with Hillary Clinton’s backtracking on her campaign’s mention of Barack Obama’s youthful drug use, Huckabee just kept the smear alive by repeating it when he said he was sorry. The damage was done—polls show many voters “are suspicious of Mormonism,” and Huckabee fed that bias.

“Quit the whining, Mr. Romney,” said Andrew Sullivan in his blog at TheAtlantic.com. You’re the one who said “no politics is meaningful without religion dictating its meaning and direction.” All religions look a little odd when you subject them to “secular, empirical standards,” and by dragging faith into the campaign you’re to blame for calling attention to the differences between Mormonism and mainstream Christianity.

“This campaign is knee-deep in religion,” said Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post (free registration), “and it's only going to get worse.” It’s time to give the “public piety” a rest. “In this country, there is no special political standing that one derives from being a Christian leader like Mike Huckabee or a fervent believer like Mitt Romney.”

All the “hullabaloo” about Romney and Huckabee is indeed “getting tiresome,” said Father Jonathan Morris in FOXNews.com. But that doesn’t mean it’s “unimportant.” When it “looks like a religion or denomination teaches doctrine or values that will influence the carrying out of the job of president, it is not bigoted or anti-American to ask the candidate to explain further.”

“I wonder,” said Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal, “if our old friend Ronald Reagan could rise in this party, this environment.”

The presidential candidates don’t seem to think much of atheists, said Eduardo Porter in The New York Times (free registration), but “nonbelievers” are “O.K. people,” too.