Is John Fetterman Arlen Specter 2.0?

Member Group : Broad + Liberty

Until recently, one of the more fascinating elected officials in Pennsylvania’s political history is former U.S. Senator Arlen Specter.

Specter was a resilient, tenacious, and durable politician.

He was elected twice as a Republican to serve as Philadelphia District Attorney, then lost narrowly as a Republican in a race for Philadelphia mayor. He lost in Republican primaries for Governor and for the U.S. Senate.

He then won five elections to the Senate.

For most of his Senate career, Specter was a Republican but one who always marched to his own drumbeat. A political observer once said he belonged to a party of one.

In a Politico Magazine article by Manu Raju and John Bresnahan, Specter was described as “a walking contradiction who could infuriate his colleagues one day and earn their admiration the next. He was, above all, maddeningly unpredictable and unafraid to anger a president or an entire party.”

He was also unafraid to anger voters. In his quest for a sixth Senate term, he switched his affiliation to the Democratic party. In the Senate Democratic primary, a majority of Democratic voters accepted his primary opponent’s contention that Specter’s party switch was not based on principle but on the political reality that he would likely lose in the Republican primary.

To date he is still the longest serving U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania.

John Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s current first term junior U.S. Senator is also a resilient, tenacious, and durable politician.

He was first elected Democratic mayor of Braddock, a rust belt borough in Allegheny County, after winning a primary by one vote. He was then elected mayor four times. He lost in subsequent Democratic primaries for the U.S. Senate and for Lieutenant Governor. He defeated an incumbent in his second run for Lieutenant Governor, then won in his second run for the U.S. Senate. In this Senate race he was endorsed by high profile progressives such as Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Oprah Winfrey.

Following his election to the Senate, conventional wisdom was that Fetterman would be a progressive Democrat in lock step with the progressive wing of his party.

On four recent high-profile issues, Fettermen has defied conventional wisdom.

On the issue of the ongoing war in the Middle East, Fetterman has strongly supported Israel. He has said, “I don’t understand why it’s controversial to anybody to decide that you’re going to stand with Israel in this situation.”

On the issue of energy and the environment, Fetterman has expressed concerns about President Biden’s decision to pause natural gas exports from America.

On the issue of immigration on the southern border, Fetterman told CNN’s Jake Tapper that he supports securing that border. He told Tapper, “I honestly don’t understand why it’s controversial to say we need a secure border.” Fetterman has also defended bipartisan talks on stricter border entry policies.

On the issue of consequences for alleged corrupt behavior, Fetterman has early and often called for the expulsion of a fellow Senate Democrat, indicted New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez.

Going forward the question is, will John Fetterman inherit the narrative on Arlen Specter referenced above by Raju and Breneshan — a walking contradiction who will infuriate his colleagues one day and earn their admiration the next, above all be maddeningly unpredictable, and be unafraid to anger a president or an entire party?

I believe he has already done so and will continue to do so.

Will he match or break Arlen Specter’s record of five terms in the Senate?


Will he change his party affiliation at some point in the future?


During and after his time in the Senate, will he be viewed as Arlen Specter 2.0?

I predict he will be.

David Reel is a public affairs and public relations consultant who was involved in politics in Harrisburg and in Philadelphia. He now lives and works in Maryland.