Should President Obama dump Joe Biden as his running mate and replace him with Hillary Rodham Clinton?
Arlen Specter was asked that hot-potato question, circulating in some Democratic circles, in a meeting Tuesday with the Inquirer Editorial Board.
His answer showed that the former 30-year senator hasn't lost his knack for blunt talk - nor, perhaps, his bitterness over what he feels were slights from Obama during his own failed 2010 reelection campaign.
He suggested that maybe Obama was the one who should be dumped.
"That's the second-best alternative," he said of replacing Biden. "A better alternative is to make Hillary the [presidential] nominee. As long as we're talking about dumping, let's go to the core problem."
This came amid a nearly hour-long, freewheeling discussion of his views on what he sees as a lack of leadership in Washington, on all sides.
Asked if he was serious that Democrats should dump Obama in favor of the secretary of state, Specter kind of shook his head. "I'm not going to get involved in that selection problem," he said.
Specter said he had no doubt that Obama would - and should - keep Biden. He said the former Delaware senator, a longtime friend, had been "a very effective voice" for the administration.
Still, now that he's out of office, he suggested, he is free to be frank. "I've been on the record a lot," he said. "I'm not running for anything at the moment. Nor do I want anything from anybody."
The White House declined to comment on Specter's remarks, referring the issue to the Obama campaign in Chicago. The campaign said it had no comment.
Specter, with a new book to be released March 27, is making the rounds again after a year of near-public silence.
He has been doing stand-up political comedy - a longtime hobby. (He once compared himself to the borscht belt comic Jackie Mason.)
More significantly, he is launching a public affairs program on Maryland Public Television with $100,000 in sponsorship he raised personally.
He said he hoped that the show - Arlen Specter's The Whole Truth, to be launched Friday - would be picked up nationally by PBS. He chose a Maryland station, he said, to make it easier to lure guests from Washington.
Now 81, the Specter who bantered with the editorial board seemed a bit worn down from the fiery, often testy version who battled Democrat Joe Sestak in the 2010 primary election.
But he said he still played racquetball every other day and remained in good health after his recovery from cancer several years ago.
A Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Democrat again, Specter had harsh words for a Republican Party in Washington that he said has taken over by tea partiers and right-wingers.
He seemed more sympathetic to the Democrats, whose party he switched to before the 2010 primary.
But he had some strong words for Obama. In his new book, copies of which have been released to reporters, he describes several opportunities in the final weeks of the 2010 campaign when Obama could have helped him by campaigning more for him in Pennsylvania - and did not.
One time late in the race, he wrote, Obama flew over Philadelphia on the way to a political appearance in New York. Another time, he flew over Pittsburgh on the way to Ohio.
"President Obama has done fairly well under fairly difficult circumstances," he said Tuesday. "He has his limitations. He is not experienced, and it shows."
He said Obama had been hampered because "he has a problem with listening. In a roomful of people, he's always the smartest guy in the room - and always has to prove it."
Specter said he was still registered as a Democrat, but felt no real tie to either party.
Asked whom he liked among the ranks of Republicans running for president, he cited former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former ambassador-to-China Jon Huntsman. "Jon Huntsman is a very good man," he said. "I think Romney is a very good man. I'm not going to make an endorsement. It's not my party anymore."
He declined to answer when asked if Rick Santorum, his former Senate colleague from Pennsylvania, was a viable candidate for the GOP presidential nomination.
Santorum has taken a beating from conservatives for helping Specter win a close reelection battle in 2004. Specter, then and later, was regarded as an apostate in GOP ranks.
"I wouldn't like to comment on that specifically," he said.
See Arlen Specter's interview with Inquirer editorial page editor Harold Jackson at www.philly.com/arlen