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Newt Gingrich campaigns in Utah for Sen. Bob Bennett

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Sen. Bob Bennett greet fans in Salt Lake.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Sen. Bob Bennett greet fans in Salt Lake.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich campaigned for Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, on Wednesday by depicting him as a true-blue conservative with the brains needed to outmaneuver President Barack Obama and Democrats as they move toward what Gingrich calls a "secular-socialist" agenda.

"The best thing Utah can do to stop Obama and get conservatism back in form is to re-elect Bob Bennett," Gingrich said at the formal campaign kickoff at the Grand America Hotel for Bennett, who is seeking a fourth, six-year term.

"He has guts, he works hard, and he's very smart" and helps outmaneuver Senate Democrats, even though the GOP is outnumbered, Gingrich said. "Sen. Bennett's knowledge of the Senate is very, very important in stopping Obama."

While Bennett, 76, is being challenged by several conservatives who say he is not conservative enough, Gingrich said, "when it came time to fight the Obama stimulus plan, Bob Bennett was helping lead that fight. When it came time to fight Obamacare, Bob Bennett helped lead that fight."

In a news conference, Gingrich took a shot at the Club for Growth, a national conservative group that has targeted Bennett. "I wish the Club for Growth would spend as much time and energy to defeat liberal Democrats as they do dividing Republicans. … I try to defeat liberal Democrats. I don't spend much time trying to defeat Republicans."

Gingrich is seen as a potential GOP presidential candidate in 2012 — as is Mitt Romney, who earlier traveled to Utah also to help Bennett polish his credentials to conservatives.

Bennett made clear, however, where his loyalties lie. "If Mitt decides to run, given my past history, I will be in Mitt's corner again." He said he even called Romney before inviting Gingrich, to ensure it would not cause problems, and received his blessing. Bennett added, "Either one of them would make a great president."

Gingrich said he sees many parallels between now and 1994, when he helped lead Republicans to gain control of the House for the first time in 40 years.

He said that was a mid-term election for a Democratic president (Bill Clinton then) who was pushing health care reform, and some early elections then went to Republicans, like now. "I believe we are right at the edge of gaining control of the House this year, and we're right at the edge of gaining control of the Senate," Gingrich said.

Bennett said at his kickoff event that he is seeking a fourth term mostly to fight to improve the economy. "If the economy doesn't work, nothing else does," and government cannot be financed well to do its job, he said.

He vowed to block expanding "entitlement" programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, saying he would try to protect current benefits (plus adjustments for inflation) but prevent expanding them because of the extra debt that creates.

Meanwhile, he said Obama's philosophy — which he wants to fight — can be summed up in six words: "Spend more, tax more, borrow more."

Bennett said, "Believe that America can solve this problem. If we can solve the Civil War, if we can solve the second world war, if we can solve the Soviet Union, we can solve Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in a way that preserves the benefits for the people who have them and at the same time preserves the economy."