October 14, 2012

Longtime GOP Senate moderate Arlen Specter dies

PETER JACKSON, The Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. — For most of his 30 years as Pennsylvania's longest-serving U.S. senator and prominent moderate in Congress, Arlen Specter was a Republican, though often at odds with the GOP leadership.

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In this May 17, 2010 file photo, Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa. campaigns in New Cumberland, Pa. Former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, longtime Senate moderate and architect of one-bullet theory in JFK death, died Sunday. He was 82.

AP

He helped end the Supreme Court hopes of former federal appeals Judge Robert H. Bork, who was nominated by Ronald Reagan. Decades later, he was one of only three Republicans in Congress to vote for President Barack Obama's stimulus.

His breaks with his party were hardly a surprise: He had begun his political career as a Democrat and ended it as one, too.

In bewteen, he was at the heart of several major American political events. He rose to prominence in the 1960s as an assistant counsel to the Warren Commission, developing the single-bullet theory in President John F. Kennedy's assassination. He came to the Senate in the Reagan landslide of 1980 and was a key voice in the confirmation hearings of both Bork and Clarence Thomas.

Specter died Sunday died at his home in Philadelphia from complications of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, said his son, Shanin. He was 82. Over the years, Specter had fought two previous bouts with Hodgkin lymphoma, overcome a brain tumor and survived cardiac arrest following bypass surgery.

Sen. Susan Collin in a prepared statement noted Specter's advocacy for the National Institutes of Health, which led to increased research funding.

"Arlen Spector demonstrated courage through his service in the Senate, but his brave determination was especially evident when he faced many health challnges over the years," Collin said in a statement. "Throughout these battles Arlen continued to work hard for the people of Pennsylvania and our nation."

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, issued a statement Sunday evening mourning Specter's death.

"Arlen has truly left an enduring mark on this institution and our country, which will reverberate for generations," Snowe said in a statement. "My thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Joan, and his entire family during this time of deep sorrow."

Snowe, who also supported the stimulus, recalled how she and Specter were part of group of moderate Republicans "dedicated to bridging the partisan divide" who met regularly for lunch.

"Over Arlen’s remarkable career spanning three decades in the Senate, time and again he reached across the aisle to build consensus on vital legislation to advance his beloved Pennsylvania and the nation," she said.

"Serving as chairman of both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Arlen was driven by a common-sense pragmatism that advocated for a revitalization and advancement of the political center," she added.

Intellectual and stubborn, Specter took the lead on a wide spectrum of issues and was no stranger to controversy.

In one of his last major political acts, Specter startled fellow senators in April 2009 when he announced he was joining the Democrats. He said he was "increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy," though he said the Democrats could not count on him to be "an automatic 60th vote" that would give them a filibuster-proof majority.

He had also concluded that he was unlikely to win a sixth term as a Republican, and his frankness about why he returned to the Democratic Party was packaged in a powerful TV ad by his primary opponent, then-U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, who hammered away at the incumbent as a political opportunist.

"My change in party will enable me to be re-elected," Specter says in TV news footage used in the ad.

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