Specter, a gruff, independent-minded moderate who spent three decades in the U.S. Senate but was spurned by Pennsylvania voters after switching in 2009 from Republican to Democrat, died on Sunday of cancer, his family said. He was 82.
Specter played a pivotal role in many of the major issues of his time, including the investigation into the assassination of President John Kennedy, disputes over controversial Supreme Court nominees, and the Senate vote not to remove President Bill Clinton from office for perjury after an affair.
Resilient, smart and aggressive, the former prosecutor frequently riled conservatives and liberals on his way to becoming Pennsylvania’s longest-serving U.S. senator. He was elected to five six-year terms starting in 1980. He left the Republican Party because he said it had become too conservative.
“Arlen Specter was always a fighter. From his days stamping out corruption as a prosecutor in Philadelphia to his three decades of service in the Senate, Arlen was fiercely independent – never putting party or ideology ahead of the people he was chosen to serve,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.
Former President George W. Bush said Specter “loved our country and served it with integrity.”
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.
He is survived by his wife and two sons.