Liberal activists and academics displeased with the Obama administration’s handling of several issues popular with progressives say they are seeking candidates willing to mount a primary challenge against President Obama next year.

The group, led by consumer advocate Ralph Nader and scholar Cornel West, said it faults Obama for the escalation of military campaigns in Afghanistan and Pakistan, for extending tax cuts first enacted by George W. Bush and for his actions during the recent debt ceiling negotiations.

The group said Saturday it is seeking six “recognizable, articulate” candidates who would not mount serious challenges to Obama, but “rigorously debate his policy stands” on issues related to labor, poverty, foreign policy, civil rights and consumer protections.

The group’s efforts come as Democrats are growing increasingly pessimistic about the country’s direction. Fewer than three-quarters of Democrats approve of Obama’s job performance, and less than a third believe the nation is headed in the right direction, according to the most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll.

But Obama is building a formidable reelection campaign that is easily exceeding quarterly fundraising goals and is on course to raise more than $1 billion. Campaign aides last week defended the president’s slipping approval numbers by noting that more than a year before the election, he is attracting thousands of volunteers and small-dollar donors.

Nader said Saturday it is “very unlikely” he would challenge Obama, and that he is gauging the interest of former lawmakers and governors, academics, authors and labor leaders.

“I just want all these liberal, progressive agendas to be robustly debated. Otherwise, there will be a de facto blackout of their discussion” during next year’s campaign, Nader said.

The longtime consumer advocate’s involvement may revive accusations that his third-party presidential candidacy upended Al Gore’s chances of winning the 2000 presidential contest.

West’s involvement is notable, because he has repeatedly criticized and questioned Obama’s liberal bona fides, and faults the president for failing to properly address the growing economic plight of African Americans.