HE'S OLDER, he's even tougher - but after almost half a century in public life, the verdict on Arlen Specter remains somewhat elusive.
After 30 years, Specter is Pennsylvania's longest-serving U.S. Senator, and probably its most idiosyncratic. His five terms have included dizzying ideological twists, major accomplishments and opportunistic betrayals, clout that brought billions of federal dollars to the commonwealth and a legendary commitment to constituent service. Not to mention a quirkiness that suggested independence but sometimes veered into the ridiculous - as when Specter avoided voting aye or nay on the Clinton impeachment but instead invoked Scottish law to pronounce the case "not proven."
Specter's legacy is difficult to assess in a short space, but as he leaves the Senate, involuntarily, here are some random "snapshots":
* Here's Specter shaking hands with residents of a county where the deer outnumber the people. He visited every one of the state's 67 counties every year, earning a remarkable amount of loyalty from constituents who might not have had a lot in common with this Jewish Kansas native from big bad Philadelphia . . . until it didn't.
* There's Specter announcing a multi-million dollar federal grant for Pennsylvania, maybe for medical research. Specter's political leverage meant the state got its share of money from D.C. - maybe more than its share - regardless of who occupied the White House.
* Here's an image of Specter going against his party to vote for legislation opposed by Republicans. Some of the votes were indeed gutty, but quite a few made no difference - the issue was either won or lost without his vote being needed.
* But here's Specter casting a principled, courageous and crucial vote against the confirmation of Robert Bork for the Supreme Court in 1987, dooming the nomination, and winning Specter eternal enmity from hard-line conservatives (no matter how hard he tried to make it up to them).
* Five years later, here's Specter - now up for re-election - engaging in the unforgettably brutal questioning of Anita Hill when she testified that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her.
* Here's Specter on the floor of the Senate in 2006 denouncing as unconstitutional the Military Commissions Act, which would dismantle the 900-year-old right to habeas corpus. But here's Specter - a short time later - voting for the law.
* Next up is Specter, bald from chemotherapy during his second bout with Hodgkin's disease in 2008, continuing his usual schedule (as he did when recovering from a brain tumor and open-heart surgery).
* And here's a shot of Specter in early 2009, one of three Republicans to help break a filibuster on President Obama's $787 billion stimulus bill. He did it, he said, because of his "duty to the public interest." But there's Specter a few months later doing what was right for Specter, changing parties to become a Democrat, mostly because it was clear he couldn't win the GOP primary. (Turns out he couldn't win the Democratic primary either.)
* And, finally, here's the image of Specter's final speech as a senator last week - true to form, he didn't call it a speech but a "closing argument." Specter went down swinging, with a scathing attack on his former party's "cannibalism" and a call for reform of the rules of a Senate that has become increasingly dysfunctional.