Under the Hat: Last of a Breed - WICU12 HD WSEE Erie, PA News, Sports, Weather and Events

Under the Hat: Last of a Breed

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America lost not only a central figure, but a centrist figure in American politics this week with the passing of former Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter.

Specter was many of the things that are considered bad form these days: he was an independent thinker who would often break from the party line and he was willing to not only consider the compromise in the middle but would actually publicly stake out the center ground.

Specter grew up in the bare fisted world of Philadelphia politics, a District Attorney who ran and won as a democrat.

As an up-and-coming politician with state and even federal ambitions, he switched to the Republican Party after 14 years and spent the next 44 as an elected Republican lawmaker.

In 2009, sensing the party's inevitable march to the right, Specter switched back, only to lose the democratic primary that would end his political career.

Sure, critics could argue that Specter was a survivor who would do what it takes to stay in power, even giving up his political base and core beliefs.

But I always thought that Specter didn't see a whole lot of difference between a centrist Democrat and a moderate Republican.

To him it was just a few steps in one direction or the other.

The last time I spoke with him was at an event in Harrisburg, where he half jokingly told a small group of us that he switched parties because the Democratic caucus treated him more warmly than Republicans did.

I said half jokingly.

Today candidates can't get the traction to even get out of the primaries without energizing the faithful to reach for their wallets.

Despite his length of service Specter knew in 2009 that the far more conservative Pat Toomey had the support of the state's Republican true believers.

He also realized that his brand of middle-of-the-road, see-the-other-guy's-point wasn't going to get him much love in that environment.

Specter's career may be proof that you may be able to govern from the middle, but you better run from one end of the spectrum or the other.

As such, that could indeed make Specter, the last of a breed.

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