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In the 2010 Democratic primary, Specter had the support of the Democratic establishment, including Obama, Pennsylvania’s governor and labor unions. But liberal challenger Joe Sestak, a retired Navy admiral and two-term congressman, painted Specter as a political contortionist concerned only about himself.
A Sestak TV ad featured a clip of Specter telling a news interviewer: “My change in party will enable me to be re-elected.” Sestak thumped Specter in a May 2010 primary.
“He has been a serious and consequential senator for three decades, yet mostly ungenerous words come to mind: driven, tenacious, arrogant, self-righteous, opportunistic,” Congress expert Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution think tank told the New York Times after Specter’s defeat.
Toomey, who currently represents Pennsylvania in the Senate, called Specter a man of sharp intelligence and dogged determination, adding: “His impact on our state and public policy will not be forgotten.”
Democrat Bob Casey, the other senator from Pennsylvania, said: “Arlen was a statesman and a problem solver who was able to work with Democrats and Republicans in the best interest of our commonwealth and our country.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, said Specter was “a man of moderation; he was always passionate, but always easy to work with.”
Specter was born in Kansas in 1930 during the Great Depression. His father was a Russian Jewish immigrant who owned a junkyard. Specter moved to Philadelphia at age 17 to attend the University of Pennsylvania. He graduated in 1951, then served in the Air Force before attending Yale Law School.
He was a Democrat until age 35, when the Republicans offered their nomination for district attorney of Philadelphia. He served as the city’s district attorney from 1966 to 1974.