Sen. Arlen Specter, Party-Switcher, Facing A Primary Challenge

By Kimberly Hefling | August 4, 2009 | 8:18 AM EDT
Washington (AP) - Rep. Joe Sestak has been acting like a candidate for months.
On Tuesday, he was poised to formally challenge Republican-turned-Democrat Sen. Arlen Specter, setting the stage in Pennsylvania for a race likely to center on whether Specter is a true Democrat.
Sestak, a former Navy vice admiral, scheduled five campaign stops in Pennsylvania on Tuesday and Wednesday. At the first, at a VFW hall in Folsom, Pa., in his suburban Philadelphia district, he's expected to announce his candidacy.
Sestak, 57, faces an uphill battle in challenging the White House-backed Specter, who has millions more in his campaign chest. But Sestak enters the race with enough money to get off to a competitive start and he has the potential to give Specter a serious run.
Much of Sestak's organizational and financial support could likely come from those in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party who have been slow to embrace Specter.
An announcement by Sestak has been expected. He's already visited the state's 57 counties and heavily campaigned.
The five-term Specter severed his decades-long ties in April with the Republican Party. He said, in part, it was to avoid a primary challenge from former Rep. Pat Toomey, who nearly beat him in the 2004 primary.
Specter has the advantage of backing from much of the party establishment. President Barack Obama and Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, have pledged support. On Monday, his campaign released the names of more than a hundred party leaders who have endorsed him.
Recently, he voted against letting people carry hidden guns in 48 states if they have a concealed weapon permit in any of those states. The vote was viewed as an example of him attempting to appeal to party liberals.
A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed Specter and Toomey in a close race, while Specter had a significant lead over Sestak.
Sestak graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and commanded an aircraft carrier battle group during post 9/11-operations in Afghanistan. He has graduate degrees from Harvard University and served as director for Defense Policy on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration.
After more than 30 years in the Navy, he returned to Pennsylvania to run for office. In 2006, he defeated GOP Rep. Curt Weldon, who spent two decades representing what had historically been a Republican district. He won re-election in 2008 with 60 percent of the vote.
Sestak has $4.3 million in cash, while Specter has $7.6 million, according to the candidates' latest reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Rep. Joe Sestak has been acting like a candidate for months.