Longtime Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter doesn't know what he'll do next year after his storied political career ends.
But at age 80, after surviving two bouts of Hodgkin's lymphoma and chemotherapy treatments, he still is in excellent health, he said. He plays squash every day.
"I think I'm going to come back to Kansas and run against (Sam) Brownback," Specter joked Tuesday during a stop in Wichita to visit friends and family.
Specter, who was born in Wichita, is finishing a Senate career that began in 1980 and ended when he lost the Democratic primary election in Pennsylvania in May. He was a Republican for 45 years before switching party affiliation last year.
Specter said he doesn't regret the switch.
"Well, it worked out badly, let me put it that way," he said, "but I do not think it was a mistake.
"I have re-traced all the steps and made a lot of decisions, and I think each decision that I made was a correct decision at the time it was made. In my line of work, it is not fruitful to do Monday-morning quarterbacking."
Specter's final split with Republicans came when he was one of three members of the party to vote in favor of President Obama's stimulus package last year, helping to put that legislation over the top.
"I cast 10,000 votes, and that one was the one that broke the camel's back," he said.
Specter said he had disagreed with Republicans over the years on issues such as stem cell research, the minimum wage and unemployment compensation.
"Being an independent is very, very difficult to maintain party standing," he said.
Specter, known as a fighter in the Senate who often angered members of both parties, was born to Russian immigrants in Wichita in 1930 at St. Francis Hospital.
"I like to say that's where I met my mother," he said.
He lived in Wichita until he was 12. His father used to remove the back seat of the family's car and load it with cantaloupes, which he'd sell in Mount Hope and Maize until local constables ran him out of the county, Specter said.
His father bought a junkyard in Lyons, then one in Russell, Specter said.
The family moved to Pennsylvania when his sister reached marriageable age because there were no Jewish boys in Russell outside the family, Specter said.
Specter never crossed paths with Russell native Bob Dole in Russell. Dole was 19 and away in college when Specter moved there.
"We've become, obviously, very good friends since," Specter said.
Dole was unique in being able to cross party lines and exercise real leadership, Specter said.
That doesn't happen much anymore, and Specter said he doesn't see the two parties coming together.
"The far right decided to defeat Obama before the ink was dry on his oath of office," Specter said.
But, he said, both sides were at fault for the split. When George W. Bush was president, Democrats filibustered all his judicial nominations, he said.
Specter said Obama, who also has Kansas connections, has done a "pretty good job" in the face of gigantic problems, including an economy that defies governmental action and a war in Afghanistan that he characterized as "a bottomless pit."
Specter voted against Obama's troop surge in Afghanistan and thinks Obama erred in buying into his generals' plans for that country.
While America must defeat al-Qaida, the terrorist organization is widespread, with only 100 members in Afghanistan, Specter said.
"Fighting the Taliban is not fighting al-Qaida," he said.
But he called Obama "a brilliant guy."
Specter said Obama approached him before the presidential election two years ago and asked him for political advice.
"He asked, if a Jewish kid from Kansas can carry Pennsylvania, how can a black kid from Kansas carry Pennsylvania?" Specter said.