Washington (CNN) – The conservative Club for Growth is hitting back at former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for criticizing the small government group during an appearance in Utah for Republican Sen. Bob Bennett. The Club is actively working to defeat Bennett, who is seeking re-election in November.
Several Republicans are challenging Bennett from his right flank as he seeks a fourth term, largely because of his vote in favor of the Wall Street bailout in 2008. While the Club has said they will oppose Bennett, they haven't said which candidate they will support instead.
But Bennett has the backing of the National Republican Senatorial Committee - which as a rule supports Republican incumbents - and on Wednesday Gingrich showed up in Salt Lake City to lend a hand.
"I wish the Club for Growth would spend as much time and energy to defeat liberal Democrats as they do dividing Republicans," Gingrich told a crowd at Bennett's formal campaign launch, according to the Deseret News. "I try to defeat liberal Democrats. I don't spend much time trying to defeat Republicans."
That prompted the influential conservative group to take a shot at Gingrich for backing "ultra-liberal" Dede Scozzafava in last year's special election in New York's 23rd district. The moderate Scozzafava quit the race after being harangued by conservative activists who supported Doug Hoffman. Democrat Bill Owens eventually won the race.
"Newt has proven time and again that he will support any Republican, regardless of policies and principles," said Club president Chris Chocola in a statement. "That's his right, but the Club for Growth PAC puts principles over party,"
"Newt was wrong about New York-23, and he's wrong about Utah," Chocola continued. "And pretty soon, Bennett will wish Newt never gave him the kiss of Dede."