Danny Johnston, Associated Press
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Conservative activist groups are hurting the Republican Party's efforts in next year's election and beyond by focusing their energy more on unseating GOP incumbents than taking on Democrats, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said Friday.
Huckabee, who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008, also left open the possibility of another White House bid. Speaking to the Political Animals Club in downtown Little Rock, Huckabee complained that outside groups such as the Club for Growth, Heritage Action and FreedomWorks are spending too much time and money by going after GOP officeholders.
"I think one of the most destructive things that's happened is right now within my own party, the Republican Party, I see more energy and money thrown at getting rid of other Republicans than I do in winning the big battle," Huckabee told the club, which meets regularly to hear from elected officials and other political figures.
Huckabee, who lives in Florida, now hosts a talk show on Fox News Channel and a national radio show. He said the focus on unseating GOP lawmakers by the groups "infuriates" him. He said it could cost the party control of the House next year and its effort to claim the Senate, and could hurt in 2016.
"We've got a lot of Republicans throwing grenades in the tent. We're fighting the wrong team here," Huckabee said. "I know there's a lot of Democrats in the room. Look, our battle is to beat you guys. We're not going to do that if we beat up each other so much that we're all wounded and absolutely mangled that we can't even go into battle."
Club for Growth has been active in Arkansas politics, backing Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton's bid to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor next year. The group earlier this year targeted Republican U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford with a website asking the public to suggest primary opponents for the two-term congressman.
Huckabee said he didn't see Club for Growth's support as an argument against Cotton, who is not expected to have a primary opponent in his Senate bid. Huckabee says he's backing Cotton's candidacy.
"I don't blame candidates for taking support. I blame the groups not for helping a candidate, that's what they ought to be doing," Huckabee told reporters after his speech. "What they shouldn't be doing is going out and hurting other Republicans. If they help a guy, that's great."
Huckabee has tangled frequently with the Club for Growth, which ran ads during his unsuccessful presidential bid highlighting tax increases he supported as governor. He's in the past referred to the group as the "Club for Greed."
"Mike Huckabee should attend an anger management seminar," Barney Keller, a spokesman for the group said in an email. "He simply can't get beyond his outrage that the Club for Growth PAC opposed his presidential candidacy because of his record of raising taxes and increasing spending as Governor of Arkansas."
Huckabee told reporters he's mulling another run for president in 2016, but doesn't have a timetable for making a decision.
"It's not something I'm laying awake at night, but it's obviously a process," Huckabee said. "I'm still young enough and capable enough to consider it, so that's all I can say at this point."
Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo
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