Specter has built a record over the last 24 years in the Senate
that has intermittently angered and thrilled Republicans and Democrats,
conservatives and liberals. He has been unafraid of bucking his
party leaders but has also provoked the
wrath of women's rights groups.
Now Specter mounts
his campaign for a historic fifth term, banking on his outspoken moderate
stances and a record of delivering federal projects and money back to
the Keystone State.
have been perplexed by Specter. While he generally sides with pro-choice
voters and recently authored a letter with Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa,
calling on an end to the ban on embryonic stem-cell research, he also
voted to ban a late-term abortion technique in 2003. A longtime supporter
of many pro-women issues, he angered many with his harsh questioning
of Anita Hill during Clarence Thomas' Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
A facile student
and talented lawyer, Specter has often relied on his brains and verbal
brawn, more than his personal charisma, to gain power and win reelection.
"No one will
ever use the word 'Specter' and 'beloved' in the same sentence. No one
gets up in the morning and says 'Gee, I'm having lunch with Arlen Specter'
and look forward to it," said G. Terry Madonna, of Franklin and
Marshall College's Center for Politics and Public Affairs.
Despite this, he
has built a storied career unparalleled in modern Pennsylvania politics.
Specter was born
in Wichita, Kan., on Feb. 12, 1930, but spent most of his childhood
years in the rural town of Russell, Kan. He excelled in school, riding
his scholarship east to Pennsylvania.
Specter first arrived
in the Quaker State as a college student in 1947 when he attended the
University of Pennsylvania. In 1951, he graduated Phi Beta Kappa from
UPenn with a Bachelor's degree in international relations. Immediately
after completing his college degree, Specter followed his father's footsteps
into the military, entering the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War.
He served until 1953, attaining the rank of first lieutenant.
Following his tour,
Specter obtained his law degree at Yale Law School in 1956. While at
Yale, he excelled academically, earning a spot on the board of editors
for the highly prestigious Yale Law Journal.
his law degree and passing the bar exam, Specter soon began a meteoric
rise as a prosecutor, taking a job as an assistant district attorney
in Philadelphia in 1959. While an assistant DA, Specter was appointed
assistant counsel to the Warren Commission, set up to investigate the
assassination of President Kennedy. It was in that role he established
the "single bullet theory," which concluded that Lee Harvey
Oswald had been the sole gunman in Dallas that day. His participation
on the commission thrust him into the public spotlight and reportedly
helped fuel his ambition to run for public office.
Although he returned to the Philadelphia DA office after the commission,
Specter was soon planning his runs for public office. He switched parties
to become a Republican and ran for district attorney in 1965, winning
election despite the city's strong Democratic voter base. He won reelection
in 1969, but then was ousted in 1973.
After his defeat
in 1973, he returned to private practice, but also set his sights beyond
the city of brotherly love. In 1976, he mounted his first run for statewide
office, running for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, losing
to rising political star and condiment heir John Heinz. Undeterred,
Specter ran for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, this time losing to
Richard Thornburgh, who went on to serve as governor until 1987.
In another tough
primary, Specter beat a former state party chairman, 36 percent to 33
percent, to win the 1980 Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. Helped
by the tide of Republican voting that swept Ronald Reagan into office,
he eked out a narrow win, garnering 50 percent of the vote, compared
with 48 percent for the Democrat.
As senator, Specter
passed legislation in the areas of education, health, veterans' rights
and terrorism. His position as chairman of the appropriations subcommittee
that oversees the National Institutes of Health, he directed more funding
to medical research to find cures and treatments for Parkinson's Disease,
cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's, to create new jobs in the health
sector, and to combat school violence by treating it as a national health
Specter has also
focused on veterans. His father, Harry Specter, was wounded in World
War I and later denied veterans aid, but as senator, Specter worked
to protect and expand their rights. He also led the investigation into
Gulf War Syndrome, despite some opposition within his party.
But his tenure in
Washington has not been without controversy. Specter's aggressive questioning
of Anita Hill in 1991 as she testified against Justice Clarence Thomas
during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing angered many, some of
whom accused Specter of being sexist and insensitive. Hill subsequently
described feeling "ridiculed" by Specter's relentless questioning.
The senator defended his questioning, but others saw his support of
Thomas as an effort to redeem himself with conservatives angered that
he opposed the appointment of staunch conservative Robert Bork to the
Supreme Court in 1987.
Specter again entered
murky waters when in 1999 he criticized the Republican Party for impeaching
President Clinton as a result of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, a stance
that was not very popular with many Republican leaders at the time.
In a decision that he himself described as "a lot ambiguous, maybe
even a little amorphous," Specter voted "not proven"
in the impeachment trial.
During his work
in the Senate, he has also faced several health scares. In 1993, Specter
was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had to undergo brain surgery and
radiation treatments in an effort to stave off the disease. Then in
1998, he had to endure double-bypass heart surgery, yet was able to
return to work at the Senate only one month later.
With respect to
the current war in Iraq, Specter voted to authorize the use of force
against Iraq in 2002 and for the $87 billion appropriations bill that
provided continued funding for the war in 2003. He also supported the
2004 defense spending bill that provided $401.3 billion for defense
and national security to be used in paying benefits to retired and disabled
military personnel as well as other defense-related items.
During his years
he has also built his political support, surviving a close race in 1992
after women's groups mounted a campaign to oust him after the Anita
Hill flap. By 1998, he cruised to a 26-point win. This year, he mounts
a campaign to become the first senator to serve five terms from the
Specter lives in
Philadelphia with his wife, Joan, a former four-time Philadelphia city
councilwoman. He has two sons, Shanin and Steve, and is a grandfather
to four children, Silvi, Perry, Lilli and Hatti.
for the Online NewsHour by Catherine