Joe Sestak WASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)–NARAL Pro-Choice America has jumped into today’s marquee Democratic primary by endorsing challenger Rep. Joe Sestak for the U.S. Senate nomination over incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter, who is endorsed by President Barak Obama.

"The difference between Joe Sestak and Arlen Specter is that voters can count on Joe Sestak to be consistently pro-choice," said Ted Miller, director of communications for NARAL Pro-Choice America, based in Washington, D.C. The organization tracks Republican and Democratic elected officials.

The leading pro-choice organization said Specter, who switched parties last year over doubts he would survive a Republican primary, had a mixed record on abortion rights compared to his rival.

The organization also sees its Sestak endorsement as consistent because it endorsed him in both his previous races for the seat he holds in the House of Representatives.

Specter earned 100 percent and 90 percent in 2007 and 2009, respectively, on NARAL’s congressional abortion rights scorecard. Sestak earned 100 percent ratings in both years.

In 2005 Specter, who describes himself as pro-choice, scored a low 20 percent on the NARAL scorecard by voting against a budget amendment to improve women’s access to contraception and by supporting four anti-choice candidates for the circuit court of appeals nominated by President George W. Bush.

The Sestak-Specter race has tightened in recent weeks with Quinnipiac University polls finding Specter with a mere two-point advantage (44 percent to 42 percent) on May 12. In early April Specter was polling with a 21-point lead.

Lois Herr Challenges Pitts

In another Pennsylvania Democratic primary race on May 18, Lois Herr, is once again challenging Rep. Joe Pitts to represent the socially conservative 16th District. She has won the backing of the National Women’s Political Caucus, the bipartisan pro-choice group in Washington, D.C.

Pitts was one of the authors of an amendment to a version of the national health care overhaul that would have banned federal taxpayer funding of elective abortion. Pitts has again raised the abortion issue in recent weeks by introducing the Protect Life Act (HR 5111) that would establish a ban on federal funding for elective abortions in any private or public health insurance program.

"He’s trying to stir up that issue and use it as a wedge," said Lulu Flores, president of the bi-partisan National Women’s Political Caucus. Flores commended Herr for focusing on economic, environment and transportation issues, which directly affect many more voters in the district

Flores said Herr, a former telecommunications executive, faces an uphill battle but may benefit from the national anti-incumbent mood.

Hanabusa Runs on May 22

In a Hawaiian race on May 22, the National Women’s Political Caucus has endorsed State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, a Democrat, in a tight three-way special election for one of the state’s two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Hanabusa, a labor attorney and community organizer, faces Rep. Ed Case, another Democrat, and Republican Hawaii City Council member Charles Djou.

"We find she’s incredibly effective and we want to see more women who are prepared to serve in higher office," Flores said.

Democratic groups have split their support between Hanabusa and Case, giving the polling lead to Djou, the sole Republican, in a district that Obama swept with 70 percent of the vote in the general election.

Emily’s List, one of the largest sources of funding for pro-choice Democratic female politicians, is backing 26 candidates in these mid-term elections, the first of which falls on June 1, when Diane Denish runs for governor of New Mexico and Terri Sewell seeks to represent Alabama’s Seventh Congressional District.

The National Women’s Political Caucus also has endorsed some June primary candidates, including North Carolina’s Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Elaine Marshall, the state’s first female secretary of state. She is facing a June 22 runoff against Cal Cunningham, a former Army prosecutor.

Although Marshall is tied at 36 with her primary opponent, she is within one point of Republican incumbent Sen. Richard Burr, according to recent surveys of likely runoff voters and general election voters, respectively, by Public Policy Polling, based in Raleigh, N.C.

Rich Daly is a writer in Washington, D.C.