Democrats Seek Out Specter Challenger

Democrats are scrambling to find a high-profile, well-funded candidate to run for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania next year, an imposing race that potentially pits them against four-term Republican Sen. Arlen Specter.

So far, the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has reached out to a half-dozen contenders to take on the winner of a Republican primary between Specter and Rep. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. Only one - the little-known chief of an environmental watchdog group - has said he is seriously considering the run.

"There are a number of people who want to review their options," DSCC chairman Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., said this week. "That's perfectly reasonable. I think they want to look at how it impacts their lives and whether they can serve well. I think if we have somebody this summer or early fall, we'll be in good shape."

Among those recently approached by Corzine is Billy King, the general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers National Basketball Association team, who said Thursday he will not run.

"I just love my job and want to stay with it," King told The Associated Press. "I appreciate them thinking of me, because at some point in time, I know that politics is something that I will pursue. But I think the timing is just not right at this time."

Other possible contenders include Marsha Perelman, leader of an energy company in Pennsylvania and sister-in-law of Revlon cosmetics chief Ron Perelman; state Sen. Connie Williams, a suburban Philadelphia lawmaker and heiress to the Hess oil and gas fortune; University of Pennsylvania President Judith Rodin; and Rep. Joseph Hoeffel, D-Pa., who would not rule out a run in 2004 when asked this week.

"At the moment, I'm running for re-election to the House," said Hoeffel, who is widely believed to be eyeing a 2006 challenge to Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa.

The only Democrat to publicly take a serious look at the 2004 race is John Hanger, 45, who heads PennFuture, an environmental and natural resources watchdog group. He said he plans to file Federal Election Commission papers this month that would let him raise money for a campaign.

Specter, who is running for an unprecedented fifth Senate term from the Keystone State, had $7 million in his campaign bank account as of March 31. His moderate politics and widespread name recognition make him a formidable foe, said Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, a longtime Specter ally.

"He'll raise a ton of money, and he works the state probably like no other senator in America works his state," Rendell said while in Washington this week. "And that makes it hard to attract candidates. But John Hanger is ... not a candidate to be sneezed at."

Mitch Bainwol, the former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee who recently left a job as a top aide to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to open a consulting firm, said Specter's political ideology and Senate clout may have scared off Democratic contenders.

Specter "has the capacity to really deliver for the state," Bainwol said. "If you're on the other side, and wondering if this guy is worth taking on, you've got to at least be humbled by the prospect of taking on that kind of challenge."