One of the nation's largest liberal advocacy organizations, MoveOn.org , is resisting efforts to clear the Democratic primary field for Republican-turned-Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter.
The political arm of MoveOn flexed its muscle Friday by releasing the results of an online poll that showed the vast majority of the group's roughly 170,000 members in Pennsylvania - 85 percent - would consider supporting a Democratic challenger against Specter.
The group expressed concern over Specter's vote against President Obama's $3.4 billion budget just one day after defecting to the Democratic Party. MoveOn also cited comments Specter made in an appearance on "Meet the Press" last weekend suggesting he would oppose a public health insurance option that some Democrats would like to see included in any health care reform proposal.
But there might be a silver lining for the longtime Pennsylvania lawmaker: The MoveOn poll found that 90 percent of its members said they would support Specter if he chooses to align more closely with the president's agenda.
"When it comes to 2010, our members will be looking at Sen. Specter's votes on the issues, not at his party label," Justin Ruben, the executive director of MoveOn said in a statement. "They'll look at whether he stands with the people of Pennsylvania to rein in Wall Street, invest in a new energy economy, take on the health insurance companies and protect the rights of working people. Our members are encouraging Sen. Specter to stand up to the lobbyists and special interests, and they'll be watching to see if he does."
In a sign that the organization is actively prodding voters to take a hard look at the five-term incumbent, MoveOn circulated a video among its Pennsylvania members criticizing the senator for taking money from the financial industry but voting against White House-backed bankruptcy legislation last week.
The best-known Democratic challenger to Specter would likely be Rep. Joe Sestak, who represents a suburban Philadelphia-based district. Earlier this week, Sestak left open the possibility that he would jump into the race, citing Specter's party switch as a cause for concern. Another Democrat, Joe Torsella, the former head of the Constitution Center, entered the race in February and said that he will stay in it.
With its announcement Friday, MoveOn added its voice to a chorus of other liberal groups that have been calling for a competitive Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania, including Democracy for America and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which have teamed up for a separate, five-day online survey designed to gauge support for a "Draft Sestak" movement. That poll remains open until Monday and already shows a high level of support for a Sestak challenge.