Image: Joe Sestak
Harry Hamburg  /  AP
"The great American dream is not about getting ahead," said Rep. Joe Sestak, "it is about doing well ... and creating a world for the next generation in which they are inspired to do the same."
updated 8/4/2009 10:56:36 AM ET 2009-08-04T14:56:36

Rep. Joe Sestak on Tuesday announced he would challenge Republican-turned-Democrat Sen. Arlen Specter, setting the stage for a Pennsylvania primary race likely to center on Specter's Democratic credentials.

Sestak, a former Navy vice admiral, made the announcement at a VFW hall in Folsom in his suburban Philadelphia district. He scheduled five campaign stops in Pennsylvania on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The second-term Democrat said he wants to put "principles over politics."

"The great American dream is not about getting ahead," he said, "it is about doing well ... and creating a world for the next generation in which they are inspired to do the same."

In April, the five-term Specter severed his decades-long ties with the Republican Party. He said, in part, it was to avoid a Republican primary challenge from former Rep. Pat Toomey, who nearly beat him in the 2004 primary.

Sestak, 57, faces an uphill battle in challenging the White House-backed Specter, who has millions more in the bank. But Sestak enters the race with enough money to get off to a competitive start and he has the potential to give Specter, 79, 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.

Video: Sestak to challenge Specter Sestak's announcement had been expected. He has been campaigning and already visited each of the state's 67 counties.

Specter has the advantage of backing from much of the party establishment. President Barack Obama and Gov. Ed Rendell, both Democrats, 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.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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