Politics

A year after switching political parties, Sen. Arlen Specter reflects and admits second-guessing himself at times

At times, U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter has wondered if he should have stayed a Republican.

For three decades, Specter prided himself on being a coalition builder, relishing a self-appointed role as a liaison striving to find the moderate solutions to liberal and conservative extremes.

Now as a Democrat, that role has vanished. For that reason alone, Specter has questioned his storied party switch.

“Well, I probably shouldn’t say this,” she said over lunch last month.  “But I have thought from time to time that I might have helped the country more if I’d stayed a Republican.”

Specter mused that perhaps if he’d remained in the caucus he could have persuaded one or two of his GOP colleagues to support health care reform. Not one Senate Republican voted in favor of it, but he swears he would have regardless of party affiliation.

“Coalition building has gone out of style in this wing of the building,” he said. Breaking from party ranks to vote with the other side is a “very unpleasant experience.”

Not long after President Barack Obama — whom Specter campaigned against in 2008 — was sworn in to office, Specter made a career-altering decision to ignore the will of the Republican leadership and vote with the Democrats on a massive spending bill meant to restimulate a crippled economy. His Republican vote, he was one of just three, is credited with boosting the $800 billion measure into law.

Specter had defied his party before, but rarely like this. And there was no longer any appetite for Lone Ranger types on Capitol Hill.

Specter’s support of Obama’s stimulus package triggered a Pennsylvania primary challenge from Pat Toomey, a former Lehigh Valley congressman Specter only narrowly defeated in 2004. It seemed Republicans would turn on Specter this cycle in favor of a party loyalist.

To save himself, Specter had two choices:

Disavow his entire political career by embracing conservative policies, as critics say centrist “maverick” John McCain has done.

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