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During his lengthy Senate career, Specter was crucial in increasing U.S. spending on biomedical research.
He helped get one conservative, Clarence Thomas, confirmed as a Supreme Court justice in 1991, while torpedoing the Supreme Court nomination of another conservative, Robert Bork, in 1987. He infuriated liberals during the Thomas confirmation hearings with prosecutorial questioning of Anita Hill, a law professor who had accused Thomas of sexual harassment. At one point, Specter accused her of “flat-out perjury.”
Specter annoyed fellow Republicans by voting “not proven” on impeachment charges against President Bill Clinton in 1999, helping prevent the Democrat from being ousted from office over his affair with a White House intern.
Specter unsuccessfully sought the 1996 Republican presidential nomination. He had several health scares, undergoing open-heart surgery and surgery for a brain tumor, as well as chemotherapy for two bouts of Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
In February 2009, a month after Democratic President Barack Obama took office, he became one of three Republican senators to vote for Obama’s economic stimulus bill that Specter said was needed to avert a depression like that of the 1930s.
Specter was reviled by some conservatives for giving Obama an important early political victory. In April 2009, Specter at age 79 abandoned the Republicans - saying his party had moved too far to the right - and was welcomed by Obama and Vice President Joe Biden as a Democrat.
Incumbent senators rarely face stiff challenges for their party’s nomination for re-election, but Specter barely survived conservative Pat Toomey’s challenge in 2004. Pennsylvania Republican primary voters are more conservative than the state’s overall electorate, and Specter calculated that he could not win the Republican primary in 2010.
“I am not prepared to have my 29-year record in the United States Senate decided by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate - not prepared to have that record decided by that jury,” Specter said in April 2009 in explaining his defection.