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...navigate the tricky politics of Pennsylvania, the nation’s second-largest swing state. He has undergone a heart bypass, surgery for a brain tumor and chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s disease twice.

He has also survived close calls on the campaign trail. In 1992, he won reelection 49 percent to 46 percent, after women’s groups made him a target because of his tough questioning of Hill. In 2004, he edged former Rep. Pat Toomey (Pa.) by just 17,000 votes in the Republican primary.

His streak of political victories came to an end, however, on May 18, when he lost to Sestak.

Specter says his vote for the stimulus ended his career. At the time, Toomey had declared his intention to run for governor, and Specter said he had “clear sailing for reelection.”

The vote for the stimulus sparked a backlash among conservatives who would later bring the Tea Party to national prominence, and Toomey decided to run for Senate. Specter switched parties soon after, realizing that he could not win a primary after 150,000 to 200,000 centrist Republicans changed their registrations to Democratic in the 2008 election cycle.

Specter said Vice President Joe Biden and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) “had been after me for a long time” to switch parties.

“The dominant thought was that the stimulus vote had cost me my seat,” Specter said, recalling his thoughts on primary night after learning he had lost to Sestak. “Of the 10,000 votes that I’ve cast in the United States Senate, the most important vote I cast was for the stimulus and I cast that vote knowing the political perils,” Specter said.

Specter decided to vote for the politically controversial package because he remembered his experience as a child during the Great Depression and wanted to spare the nation from another economic calamity.

Specter was one of three Republicans, along with Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, to support the stimulus.

“I have always agreed with Kennedy that sometimes party asks too much,” he said of pressure from Republican leaders to hold ranks against the bill.

Specter said his vote for the economic stimulus was one of several pivotal votes he cast to advance President Obama’s agenda. He said his decision to join the Democratic Party gave Obama the 60th Senate vote to pass both healthcare reform and Wall Street reform, two of his biggest legislative initiatives.

Specter says he has a “very good relationship” with Obama, even though the president decided not to campaign for him on the ground in the final days leading up to the Pennsylvania primary.

Specter declined to reveal his thoughts in reaction to the snub, adding that he needs to save some material for a book he plans to publish.

Specter also withheld making a public comment on the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), again citing his publishing ambitions.

In his final floor speech, Specter criticized Reid and other recent majority leaders for the “tyrannical” practice of routinely refusing to let senators offer amendments on the legislation.

Specter said Obama has invited him to the White House since the election to discuss the lawmaker’s future interests. He said he is not interested in serving in a Cabinet post, but added that “if something should arise where he wanted me to serve and [it was] something I thought I could make a contribution on, it would be a possibility, but nothing’s in the offing.”

Specter predicts Obama will have a difficult time working with Republicans in the 112th Congress.

“I think it’s going to be very tough; when you have the Senate Republican leader saying the No. 1 objective of the Republican caucus is to defeat the president in 2012, that’s not a shot across the bow, that’s a shot at the control room.”

Specter plans to teach a class on Supreme Court confirmation hearings at the University of Pennsylvania Law School in next year’s fall term. He is also exploring possibilities as a television or radio commentator and has had...

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