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Arlen Specter Credit: Maya Spitzer

When Penn for Specter president Graham White attended presentations on both U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) at a Penn Democrats meeting last fall, the College freshman chose to support Specter because he was impressed by the senator’s long record of helping Pennsylvania.

“Specter has the experience to get the change that Obama wants in Washington,” White said. “Sestak is more liberal, but I didn’t feel like he was experienced enough.”

White’s feelings toward Specter are typical among members of the student group. Despite Specter’s party switch last April, his student supporters say his independent-minded nature is one of his most important attributes.

“I understand that there’s a lot of blow-back that focuses on how he’s basically a turncoat,” College junior, Southeast Pennsylvania coordinator for Students for Specter and former Penn for Specter President Colin Kavanaugh said. “It was always my perspective that not only was he not [a turncoat], he was actually a real profile in courage when it came down to the stimulus vote.”

Wharton junior Michael Stratton, the Southeast Pennsylvania coordinator for Students for Specter, echoed this confidence in Specter’s ability to do the right thing.

“Initially I think many Democrats were somewhat uneasy with him as a candidate and him as a Democrat,” he said, but since then, those concerns have been eased as Specter has voted with Democrats on many issues.

Penn for Specter came together last fall after Kavanaugh, a former Daily Pennsylvanian reporter and columnist, began working for the Specter campaign.

Establishing the group meant “literally starting from scratch” to find members, but Kavanaugh said the process was helped by some interested students, like Stratton, who had connections on campus and in the area from previous campaigns.

When Specter held a town hall meeting on campus last October, students got to see that “in a smaller setting, like town halls, he’s actually a very funny person,” Kavanaugh said.

Randall Miller, a St. Joseph’s University history professor and political analyst, said support for Specter is common not just among Democratic students, but also with party voters across the state.

“Democrats don’t have to like Specter, and they don’t have to think he’s really true blue,” he said. “They just have to believe he will get the job done for them, and that’s basically what he’s saying he’ll do.”

He added that Specter still has some independent and Republican support because he has not just supported every Democratic policy since the switch.

“That’s always been his appeal,” Miller said. “He’s independent-minded, but also knows how to deliver the goods.”

White said while some members are very liberal Democrats and others are more moderate or centrist, he doesn’t know of any Republican students who have joined.

“Obviously Specter didn’t rub a lot of Republicans the right way when he switched parties,” Kavanaugh said. “There are some young Republicans that didn’t forgive him for the switch.”

Penn College Republicans Chairman Peter Devine, a Wharton senior, said most members of the conservative student group lost faith in Specter after he switched parties last spring “not because he’s a Democrat, but because he put himself over his party, and his reelection over … what he stands for.”

Pennsylvania’s primary doesn’t take place until May 18, so Penn for Specter has spent the spring semester recruiting more members. But in a few weeks, White said, the group will begin canvassing, phone-banking and organizing events in support of the candidate.

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