COLUMBIA -- Former Vice President Dick Cheney endorsed U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett on Wednesday in the race for governor.

Cheney's endorsement is the highest-level public endorsement so far in the June 8 GOP primary race to replace term-limited Republican Gov. Mark Sanford.

"Gresham Barrett is one of the most conservative leaders I've ever worked with," Cheney said in a news release.

Barrett has been knocked by his GOP opponents in ads and debates for supporting the Bush administration's bailout of Wall Street firms and banks in 2008. Attorney General Henry McMaster's campaign quickly called the endorsement a payback.

"This is nothing more than political payback for Congressman Barrett's trillion dollar bank bailout flip-flop. That's how they do things in Washington, D.C., and that's how we got in this mess to start with," McMaster spokesman Rob Godfrey said.

Cheney praised Barrett for voting against every Obama administration stimulus initiative and chided Barrett's critics.

"But there's a lot of revisionist history going on in South Carolina these days. I expect that from MSNBC, but not from fellow Republicans," Cheney said.

"I'm certain Gresham knew his vote in support of President Bush and our plan wouldn't be popular, but he did something far too novel in American politics today: He put the interests of his country ahead of his own," Cheney said.

Barrett was the only member of South Carolina's U.S. House delegation to vote against the legislation when it first came up and failed. After lobbying from top Republicans as well as the businesses in his district, Barrett voted for the bailout when it came up the second time and passed.

The bailout votes have become enough of a concern on the campaign trail that Barrett has launched a new 60-second ad highlighting the topic.

"But I honestly believe with all my heart that we were at a point where men and women were going to reach in their back pocket and pull out a credit card or an ATM card, stick it in a machine and nothing was going to come out," Barrett says in the ad.

"I listened to my President George W. Bush. I listened to businessmen and leaders in South Carolina and as a leader I made a decision. Did we stop something that could have happened? Yeah I believe we did."

Cheney's endorsement is one of the campaign's most noteworthy. State Rep. Nikki Haley has gained visibility in the race after being endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.