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In book, Specter reveals turmoil beneath exterior

By James O'toole

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Published: Saturday, Dec. 31 2011 11:20 a.m. MST

PITTSBURGH — Arlen Specter is a reasonably tough guy. He has survived two forms of cancer and multiple election losses with few public complaints.

But in his new memoir "Life Among the Cannibals," set for publication in late March, Specter, 81, acknowledges more than a few psychic bruises, including one incurred during a visit to Carnegie Mellon University in June 2010. Shortly after his loss to former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak in the Democratic primary for his U.S. Senate seat, he hitched a ride from Washington, D.C., to Pittsburgh on Air Force One, chatting with President Barack Obama near the end of the short flight.

As the president spoke on campus, Specter recounts, "I was a little surprised when he did not acknowledge my presence, especially when he started off thanking Mayor Luke Ravenstahl for meeting him at the airport, looking straight at Ravenstahl and me sitting together in the audience's front row. He acknowledged a number of people, but not me."

Specter describes the slight as more confounding because in his speech the president cited two of the administration's legislative priorities for which Specter's votes were crucial: the economic stimulus and health care reform. The incident reminds Specter of this maxim: "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog." But Pennsylvania's longest-serving senator adds, "I'd be less than candid — and less than conscious — if I didn't say that it hurt."

In Specter's retelling, that was not the most consequential of the slights from an administration that he had allied himself with after his stunning conversion from Republican to Democrat in the face of a repeat primary challenge from Pat Toomey.

Early in the book, Specter recounts a reporter's primary-night question: "Why didn't the president come to Philadelphia for you in the last few days before the election?"

"He probed an open wound," Specter says. "Some argued that the president had thrown me under the bus, suggesting that Obama thought our prospects weren't good."

Specter describes the closing days of the last of his many campaigns (he lost re-election in 1973 as Philadelphia district attorney) as filled with frustration over steadily eroding poll numbers.

"It looked especially bad when the president, on the Thursday before the election, flew over Philadelphia en route to New York City, and then, on primary day, flew over Pittsburgh to visit a factory in Youngstown, Ohio, 22 miles from the Pennsylvania border, for a stimulus event."

The book, written with Charles Robbins and subtitled "A Political Career, a Tea Party Uprising and the End of Governing As We Know It," is published by Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's Press. An advance reading copy has been sent to book review media.

Specter's reservations about his post-conversion treatment from the White House are mild compared to the anger that shows through in descriptions of his dealings with Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader.

Specter says Reid assured him that, upon switching caucuses, he would retain the decades of seniority that boosted his influence on powerful committees such as Judiciary and Appropriations, and, with it, one of the more powerful arguments for his re-election. Speaking to reporters at the time, Specter downplayed the seniority issue, suggesting that it was a relatively minor complication that would be straightened out after the next election. The manuscript makes clear that behind the serene public facade Specter was anguished and irate.

Despite the promises that Specter describes, Reid could not deliver on his seniority pledge because of resistance from Democratic lawmakers who would have had to step aside to accommodate the new member of their caucus. The Specter prose seethes as he describes how Reid, with no advance notice, filed a motion in a near-empty Senate chamber that stripped the veteran of nearly three decades of seniority, the coin of congressional influence.

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