Sometimes irascible but ever the embodiment of political pragmatism, former Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania lost his battle with cancer Sunday. A Democrat-turned-Republican-returned-Democrat, he represented his state in the Senate longer than any other Keystone State lawmaker until he lost a primary race in 2010.
A look at Specter's profile on Sunlight's Capitol Words, which tracks lawmakers' speeches on the floor of Congress, reveals a rarity in contemporary politics: a politician who moved easily across party lines. His most oft-uttered word was the name of another senator, Tom Harkin of Iowa, who for most of Specter's 30-year Senate career, served on the opposite side of the aisle.
Although Specter ended his political career as an ally of President Barack Obama, the senators he most resembled in his utterances on the Senate floor were Republicans — with the notable exception of New York Democrat Chuck Schumer.
Both Specter and Schumer are fellow Ivy League law school graduates who served on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Specter participated in the confirmation hearings of 14 Supreme Court nominees, a history that is also reflected on Capitol Words, along with his life-long interest in criminal law and his penchant for the vocabulary of the courtroom.