Specter Puts on a Show for Conservatives

Election victories have never come easily to Arlen Specter, who launched his political career by switching his registration from Democratic, the dominant affiliation in his home city, to Republican so that he could run against his boss for district attorney in Philadelphia in 1965.

That deal with the devil helped him in the short term – he won two terms as D.A. – but it also sentenced Specter to a lifetime of treacherous political balancing: His moderate profile – pro-choice on abortion, generally liberal on cultural issues, and hardly a doctrinaire conservative on taxes – makes him exactly the sort of Republican who can actually win a general election in Pennsylvania, just as it renders him eternally vulnerable in Republican primaries.

Twice in the 1970s, Specter lost campaigns for statewide G.O.P. nominations – for the Senate in 1976 and the governorship in 1978. Finally, in 1980 he broke through, claiming the Senate seat he still holds today.

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