Sestak may challenge Specter in primary

Rep. Joe Sestak, the second-term Pennsylvania Democrat who has been mulling a run for Senate, says he may go ahead and challenge Sen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary.

Democratic leaders hope to clear the field and give Specter a clean shot at the Democratic nomination for Senate.

But Sestak declined to rule out a challenge to Specter during an interview Thursday on the "Bill Press Show," a nationally syndicated liberal talk show.

Sestak also said he would not let Democratic leaders in Washington push him out of the race. President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidLobbying World Mitch McConnell is not invincible Seven big decisions facing Biden in 2020 primary MORE (D-Nev.) have promised to raise money for Specter and campaign on his behalf during the 2010 Democratic primary.

Specter told reporters Tuesday that Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) hoped to convene a meeting of leaders in D.C. to solidify party backing for the senior senator who left GOP ranks this week.

Sestak, however, says he doesn’t care what party leaders in Washington decide.

“Pennsylvanians need to make this decision and not have it decided by Washington, D.C., Democratic Party establishment and I feel very strongly about that,” said Sestak.

The House Democrat said he would look closely at Specter’s policy statements and how he votes over the next few months before deciding whether to take him on.

“What’s he running for?” said Sestak. “There are critical issues facing our nation, from healthcare to how do we take care of education.

“Now, if he’s for the right things we might end up with the right candidate but for me it’s a wait-and-see.”

Sestak said that he’s focusing on helping constituents in his district, noting that his office has handled “10,000 constituency cases in two years.”

“This cannot be about a legacy; it has to be about cementing a future for our people,” he said.

Sestak is beginning to position himself as an outsider, a candidate not in lockstep with the wishes of party leaders in Washington.

The lawmaker recalled that when he first ran for Congress, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had already settled on another candidate and tried to stop him from running.

Sestak said he told political strategists in Washington at the time that he did not think he needed their permission to run.

“I think this just comes down to what’s best for Pennsylvanians, and boy are we independent.”