(CNN) - Just days before he stands before Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary voters, Sen. Arlen Specter, a former Republican, sought to cast his party switch of a year ago as a matter of principle rather than self-interested politics.
“For years, I've tried to moderate the Republican Party,” Specter, a five-term incumbent, said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union. “And when the stimulus came up and President Obama asked me for his support - for my support, and it looked like we were sliding into a 1929 depression, I sided with President Obama.
“It wasn't my job to be saved. It was the jobs of thousands of Pennsylvanians and Americans.
“Look here, I had a clear shot at re-election. If I had stayed with the obstructionist Republican caucus, I would have been re-elected easily, especially in an out-year when the party out of power is favored.”
Specter added that he was at odds with the GOP because of his vote in favor of President Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package.
Asked by CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley about the anti-incumbent mood in the country with midterm elections six months away, Specter championed his record of ideological independence during his three decades in the Senate.
“Candy, that's the national attitude. But I have fought the bickering and the partisanship in Washington. I have been one guy who has been willing to cross party lines.
“Look here, in my tenure in the Senate, I have voted in an independent way. I have sided with the Democrats more often on the big issues than Republicans. I support a woman's right to choose, Roe versus Wade. I am opposed to warrantless wiretapping. I have voted to raise the minimum wage.
“And take the Bork confirmation proceeding. It would have been a different Supreme Court had Bork been confirmed, and I led that fight to defeat him. He didn't even believe that equal protection applied to women.
“So that in the context of being an independent, it is true. I am not ideologically bound.”
When Specter left the GOP last year, he was quickly embraced by the Democratic establishment beginning with the president and vice president. But Specter’s path to the Democratic Senate nomination has not been a clear one. Rep. Joe Sestak is challenging Specter for his party's nod notwithstanding the support the former Republican has from the White House and from Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. Sestak has surged in recent weeks with polls showing the race virtually even in the final days before Tuesday’s primary.
Specter, who at 80 is more than 20 years older than his challenger, said Sunday that he is the best candidate to beat former Rep. Pat Toomey, the likely GOP nominee, and to keep his Senate seat in Democratic hands in order to continue to support the president’s agenda.
“Sestak can’t do it,” Specter told Crowley.
The senator added,” You've got to face up to the issue sand you've got to be strong and you've got to be tough. And I'm the guy to do it.”
And in a race where Sestak has sought to cast Specter as not being a reliable or true Democrat who can be trusted to back the party, Specter took a not so veiled shot at his opponent on the issue of party loyalty.
Earlier in the broadcast, Sestak had refused to say whether he would support Specter if the senator prevails in Tuesday’s primary. Asked whether he would support Sestak if the tables were turned, Specter did not hesitate.
“Sure. I am going to support anybody against Pat Toomey,” said Specter, who bested Toomey in a past GOP Senate primary. “It is not going to happen, but I will answer your question, Candy. [Sestak] wouldn't answer your question as to what he has to hide. He wouldn't answer your questions all over the lot, ducks and bobs and weaves.”
Since Obama named Solicitor General Elena Kagan as his second pick to sit on the Supreme Court nearly a week ago, Specter has also taken fire from Sestak over his previous opposition to Kagan when she came before the Senate last year (when Specter was a Republican). Asked about Kagan Sunday, Specter defended his tough stance toward her nomination to be solicitor general last year but he said he was keeping an open mind the second time around.
“Confirmation hearings are to find out - to tell the senators and the American people where [nominees] stand as a matter of philosophy and ideology. And I think I'm making some progress on that, Candy, by being a little tough about it,” said Specter.