Arlen Specter, a moderate former US senator from Pennsylvania who played key roles in critical US Senate battles, but angered colleagues by switching from Republican to Democrat, died on Sunday aged 82.
Specter died of complications from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, his family said.
The five-term US senator was elected in 1980 as a Republican, but he was one of just three in the party to vote for US President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan in 2009.
After being labeled a pariah by conservatives, he defected to the Democratic Party, only to lose its primary in 2010, ending his long Senate career.
“As the Republican Party has moved farther and farther to the right, I have found myself increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy and more in line with the philosophy of the Democratic Party,” Specter told reporters.
Yet Specter also tied the decision to his faltering re-election bid, angering some Democratic voters.
Specter played a key role in several US Supreme Court nominations, notably derailing the 1987 nomination of conservative Robert Bork to the Republicans’ dismay.
However, the unpredictable politician angered liberals four years later when he backed the conservative Clarence Thomas in 1991.
In a statement, Obama hailed Specter as “fiercely independent — never putting party or ideology ahead of the people he was chosen to serve.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who served with Specter for 28 years in Congress, described him as “a man of moderation; he was always passionate, but always easy to work with.”
Earlier this year, Specter released his memoir, Life Among the Cannibals, which detailed his decision to support Obama’s stimulus, how he was shunned by the Republican Party and the rise of the far-right Tea Party movement.
“’Extremism’ was no longer sufficiently extreme to describe what was going on,” Specter wrote about the anti-incumbent wave that swept Washington in 2010. “The quest for ideological purity was destroying comity and compromise and bringing government to a standstill.”