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Conservative group attacks Bennett over his health plan

Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, is under attack by a national conservative group for his version of health-care reform.

The Club for Growth, known in Utah mostly for spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in previous campaigns against Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, is spending about $90,000 on a two-week TV-ad campaign in Utah. The advertisements are part of a $1.2 million campaign nationally to "highlight the dangers of government-run health care."

Ads in Utah attack a bill that Bennett and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., have pushed for years and more recently have portrayed as an alternate to other health-care reform plans touted by Democrats and President Barack Obama — plans that Bennett has opposed.

The Club for Growth, which says it promotes economic freedom, is making it clear that it does not want the Bennett-Wyden bill as an alternative. That shot from the right comes as several GOP candidates further to the right of Bennett are challenging him for his seat.

"Sen. Bennett's bill is a health-care nightmare," said club president Chris Chocola. "Rather than lowering the cost of care by increasing competition, it turns control of our health-insurance system over to the government."

Chocola added, "We believe it's important for Sen. Bennett's constituents to know that he's pushing for massive tax increases and government-run health care."

Jim Bennett, the senator's son and campaign manager, responded, "It looks like the negative campaign season has started early with this grossly inaccurate Club for Growth ad."

He said, "Sen. Bennett is absolutely opposed to a government-run health care system, and saying otherwise is 100 percent false. Bennett's bill is the only plan that would put Americans' in charge of their own health-care dollars, create competition in the private markets, and drive down the escalating costs of care."

The ad from The Club for Growth stresses Bennett is pushing the bill with "liberal" Wyden. The ad says Bennett's bill would push "you out of your current plan," and under the measure, "citizens can only buy health plans approved by the government."

The Club for Growth said it is also sending letters to former state GOP convention delegates, urging them to tell Bennett "to drop his proposed government-run health-care plan and support alternatives that give more control to patients and doctors."

Delegates to the state convention have a big say about who will be the party's nominee for Bennett's Senate seat next year. If a candidate earns 60 percent of their votes, that candidate becomes the nominee. Otherwise, the top two candidates proceed to a primary.

Bennett is being challenged by several Republicans who, like The Club for Growth, say he is not conservative enough, including Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, businesswoman Cherilyn Eagar and small-business owner James Russell Williams III. Also, former congressional candidate Tim Bridgewater has considered entering the race.

Democrat Sam Granato is also running.

e-mail: lee@desnews.com