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President Obama, Key Washington Figures Mourn Specter

Condolences from those who served with Arlen Specter poured in today following news of the former Pennsylvania Senator’s death after a long bout with cancer.

Those mourning the passing of Specter, 82, included Members of the House and Senate, as well as some whom had been among his rivals, like Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). Toomey challenged Specter in the 2004 Republican Senate primary, losing narrowly, and was set to run against him again in the 2010 GOP Senate primary until Specter switched parties and became a Democrat.

“A man of sharp intelligence and dogged determination, Sen. Specter dedicated his life to public service and the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. His impact on our state and public policy will not be forgotten. My wife Kris and I send our thoughts and prayers to Joan and the entire Specter family,” Toomey said in a statement.

Toomey defeated Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) in the 2010 general election, capturing the Senate seat Specter held for 30 years.

Specter, originally a Democrat before becoming a Republican and sticking with the GOP for about 40 years, became the Senate’s sixtieth Democrat when he joined the majority Democratic Conference in early 2009. In doing so, he helped deliver President Barack Obama the legislative support he needed to pass the Affordable Care Act over Republican objections. It takes 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, and Specter’s jump to the Democratic Party rendered GOP attempts to block the Affordable Care Act moot.

After Specter’s family confirmed his death to the Associate Press this morning, key Washington figures joined each other in lauding his career as a “fighter,” a moderate and a dealmaker.

“Arlen Specter was always a fighter,” Obama said in a statement. “From his days stamping out corruption as a prosecutor in Philadelphia to his three decades of service in the Senate, Arlen was fiercely independent – never putting party or ideology ahead of the people he was chosen to serve.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) echoed the sentiment, writing that Specter was “always willing to reach across the aisle and work across party lines to get the job done, regardless of political gamesmanship or gain.”

Minutes after the news broke, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) tweeted, “Arlen Specter – a dear friend who served his state and nation with honor and distinction. RIP.”

“America is better today because of Arlen Specter. He will be dearly missed,” added Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in a statement.

Noticeably, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) referred to Specter as a Republican in his press release. He was a fighter to the end,” McConnell said in his statement.

Niels Lesniewski, Humberto Sanchez and Meredith Shiner contributed to this report.

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