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Huckabee backs Romney during visit to Gainesville
Former Arkansas governor, Deal attend fundraiser
Gov. Nathan Deal arrives at the Robson Event Center.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said he doesn’t care what Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s tax returns look like.

Huckabee, in Gainesville on Thursday afternoon for a fundraiser for Romney, said calls for the presumptive GOP nominee to release more of his tax returns to prove a claim that he never paid less than 13 percent of his income in annual federal taxes were an “incredible false distraction” thrown up by his Democratic opponent, President Barack Obama.

Legally, Romney does not need to make any more of his financial records public.

And Huckabee said Romney need not indulge the calls, saying someone at Romney’s level of wealth likely has already been sufficiently scrutinized by the Internal Revenue Service.

“If there was anything improper, they would have already dealt with it,” said Huckabee, who was a GOP candidate for the White House in 2008. “There’s no indication anywhere that he has done anything illegal or improper about his taxes.”

Earlier Thursday, Romney declared that he has paid at least 13 percent of his income in federal taxes every year for the past decade, and also decried a “small-minded” fascination over returns he will not release.

Obama’s campaign shot back in doubt: “Prove it.”

But Huckabee said he doubted voters even cared, and if they did, would likely not understand what the returns meant.

“I honestly haven’t talked to anyone traveling around the country that comes and says ‘I’m not going to vote for Romney unless he releases his tax returns,’” Huckabee said.

Huckabee said voters are more concerned with whether their own tax returns show income. He said Romney offers a “seasoned maturity in terms of understanding the very just rudimentary essence of an economy.”

“He knows that if you punish the people who are being productive and you reward the people who are being irresponsible, you’re going to destroy the economy,” Huckabee said of the former Massachusetts governor.

Huckabee came to town to help rally support for Romney in an area that largely supported his Republican opponent in the primaries, Newt Gingrich, in the March contest in Georgia.

Headlining an event at the downtown Robson Event Center, where tickets reportedly ranged between $1,000 and $10,000, Huckabee was joined by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, who formerly served as the chairman for Gingrich’s campaign in Georgia.

Huckabee, who carried Georgia in the presidential primary in 2008, last came to town to lend a political hand when Deal was a candidate for governor in a hard-fought battle for the Republican nomination.

In 2008, as Huckabee sought the Republican nomination, he and Romney were opponents, but Huckabee said the two men were never enemies and any issues between them were “long gone.”

“Today, we’re on the same team,” Huckabee said.

Before entering the private fundraiser Thursday, Huckabee said Northeast Georgia voters ought to identify with the “economic sanity” Romney brought to the presidential campaign, even if they hadn’t been as quick to support him before.

But he also said Georgians would identify with Romney’s differences with Obama on social issues.

“The people of Georgia are traditional, they want to believe that their president is going to support the sanctity of human life, not do anything to undermine the basic premise of marriage and the family,” Huckabee said. “I think with the Romney-(Paul) Ryan ticket, they have a great deal of assurance that we’re going to have a very different approach than we’ve had under Barack Obama.”

Those issues, Huckabee said, will trump tax issues.

Democrats are using the tax issue to raise doubts about Romney’s trustworthiness — or, as Republicans contend, to distract from a weak economic recovery under Obama.

Huckabee said voters should be comforted “that a man of that wealth isn’t going to steal from the government because he’s got more money than they do.”

And the former Arkansas governor said he did not believe it mattered what rate Romney paid as long as it was legal.

“I want a president who’s smart enough to pay all the taxes that he owes, but I don’t want one who is so stupid that he would pay taxes that he doesn’t have to pay,” Huckabee said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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