Date of Birth: February 12, 1930
Place of Birth: Wichita, Kansas, U.S.
Date of Death: October 14, 2012
Place of Death: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Ethnicity: Ashkenazi Jewish
Arlen Specter was an American lawyer and politician. He was the 19th District Attorney of Philadelphia, from January 3, 1966 to January 7, 1974, and served as a U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, from January 3, 1981 to January 3, 2011. He was a Democrat (from 1951 to 1965), a Republican (from 1965 to 2009), and then a Democrat again.
He was a candidate for the Republican Party’s nomination for President of the United States in 1996.
Arlen was the son of Lillie (Shanin) and Harry Aaron Specter. His parents were Jewish immigrants. His father was born in Bachkuryne, Cherkasy Oblast, Ukraine. His mother was also born in the Russian Empire. He was married to businessperson and politician Joan Specter, until his death. The couple has two children.
Arlen’s paternal grandfather was named Avram Specter.
Arlen’s maternal grandfather was Mordecai “Max” Shanin (the son of Yehuda Leb Shanin and Anna Ugel). Mordecai was born in Mogilev, Belarus. Yehuda was the son of Ansel Asher Shanin and Rhoda.
Arlen’s maternal grandmother was named Freda Mermowitz (the daughter of Jacob Mermowitz). Freda was born in Ukraine.
Two people of Jewish heritage have been nominated for President of the United States by a major party. Barry Goldwater, nominated by the Republican Party in 1964, was the first (Goldwater was born to a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother, and was raised an Episcopalian). John Kerry, nominated by the Democratic Party in 2004, was the second (Kerry’s paternal grandparents were born Jewish, though Kerry’s father and Kerry himself were raised Catholic).
Joe Lieberman, who is Jewish, was nominated for Vice President of the United States by the Democratic Party in 2000.
Five people of Jewish heritage have won a major party’s Presidential caucus and/or primary:
*Barry Goldwater (1964, the year he was nominated; Republican; won 7 states; Goldwater also sought the 1960 Republican nomination)
*John Kerry (2004, the year he was nominated; Democratic; won 51 contests)
*Wesley Clark (who sought the 2004 Democratic nomination; won 1 state, Oklahoma; Clark was born to a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother, and is a practicing Catholic)
*Bernie Sanders (who sought the Democratic nomination in 2016 and 2020; in 2016, he won 23 contests; in 2020, he won 9 contests)
*Michael Bloomberg (who sought the 2020 Democratic nomination; won 1 territory, American Samoa)
Of the five, Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg are Jewish by religion, and Sanders is the first person of Jewish religion to have won a caucus and/or primary for a major American political party’s Presidential nomination (the 2016 New Hampshire primary).
Other people of significant Jewish heritage who have mounted plausible or semi-plausible campaigns for a major party’s nomination for President of the United States are:
*Milton Shapp (who sought the 1976 Democratic nomination)
*Larry Agran (who sought the 1992 Democratic nomination)
*Joe Lieberman (who sought the 2004 Democratic nomination)
*John H. Cox (who sought the 2008 Republican nomination)
*Fred Karger (who sought the 2012 Republican nomination)
*Marianne Williamson (who sought the 2020 Democratic nomination)
*Michael Bennet (who sought the 2020 Democratic nomination)
*Tom Steyer (who sought the 2020 Democratic nomination)
Shapp, Agran, Lieberman, Karger, and Williamson were/are all Jewish by religion. Bennet and Steyer were raised in mixed-faith households, Bennet with a Jewish mother and Steyer with a Jewish father. Shapp was the first person of Jewish religion to mount a prominent campaign for a major party’s nomination for President of the United States.
Kirsten Gillibrand, a Catholic with a Jewish great-grandfather, also sought the 2020 Democratic nomination.
Sources: Genealogy of Arlen Specter – http://www.geni.com
Arlen Specter on the 1940 U.S. Census – https://familysearch.org