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'Independent' ex-Sen. Arlen Specter dies at 82

WASHINGTON -- Arlen Specter, a moderate ex-senator from Pennsylvania who played key roles in critical Senate battles but angered colleagues by switching from Republican to Democrat, died Sunday. He was 82.

Specter died of complications from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma — a form of immune system cancer — at home in Philadelphia, his family said. Former Specter spokesman Christopher Nicholas also confirmed the death.

The five-term senator was elected in 1980 as a Republican, but he was one of just three in the party to vote for 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 at the time.

But Specter also tied the decision to his already faltering re-election bid, angering some Democratic voters.

Specter played a key role in several Supreme Court nominations, notably derailing the 1987 nomination of conservative Robert Bork to the dismay of many of his fellow Republicans.

But the unpredictable politician angered liberals four years later when he backed the conservative Clarence Thomas in 1991.

During President Bill Clinton's 1999 Senate impeachment trial, Specter tried to vote “not proved,” citing a precedent in Scottish law, but ended up joining the president's Democratic backers in declaring Clinton “not guilty.”

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