Waiting in the Wings

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One name that came up often as a running mate for John McCain was Tom Ridge. Last year his name came up to run for the U.S. Senate when Arlen Specter (D-PA) switched parties from Republican to Democrat. He would have had the backing of the party machinery had he taken the offer, but he turned it down rather than face a primary battle with Pat Toomey who had already declared his candidacy. Recently his name has come up as a potential Presidential candidate. Ridge says he has no plans to re-enter politics…unless the party asks him to.

As a pro-choice moderate Republican with ties to the Bush administration, Ridge is positioned in much the same way that John McCain was in 2008.


McCain and Ridge

With many of the leading candidates coming from a more traditional conservative viewpoint, the party members aligned with Bush policies are still looking for a candidate who will champion that philosophy. The War on Terror often overshadows the Bush administration’s other major activities: a massive expansion of the federal government’s role in education through No Child Left Behind, a massive expansion of Medicare through the Prescription Drug Benefit and a series of other big government programs that attempted to steal the Democrats’ issues and control them. Ridge, being more moderate, is more open to those kinds of big government programs than most of the current contenders for the nomination.

Yet all is not smooth between the former Bush administration and Tom Ridge. After Bush was re-elected, Ridge resigned. He later accused the administration of pushing him to raise the terror alert status in 2004 before the election when it was not warranted; basically an accusation that terror concern was being used for political gain. Many of those who championed Bush and McCain are still supportive of Ridge, despite his accusations. In some ways, a man who criticized a President who is still a punching bag isn’t such a bad thing. It makes him look far more different than he really is, a sort of new ‘Maverick’ for 2012.

Ridge does have an attractive resume for consideration. He grew up fairly poor in veterans housing, his father having served in the U.S. Navy. He graduated with honors from Harvard which he was able to afford by working construction jobs in addition to an academic scholarship he’d earned from high school. After his first year of law school, he was drafted and served as a Staff Sergeant in the Vietnam War earning multiple decorations before suffering a ruptured appendix and being discharged from the service. His hearing in one ear was also permanently damaged and he has worn a hearing aid ever since. After returning from Vietnam, he completed his law degree from Dickinson School of Law. After 8 years of private practice, he became an Assistant District Attorney and then two years later was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He served in the House for 12 years before being elected Governor of Pennsylvania. A popular Governor, he was reelected in 1998. He resigned near the end of his second term as Governor to become the first Secretary of Homeland Security. He has never lost an election.

With conservatives split between multiple contenders as they were in 2008, the possibility that the former Bush faction of the party might draft Ridge isn’t unrealistic. With funding and support split across several conservatives, a perceived moderate could easily raise money and rack up some primary victories from a solid group of Republican moderate voters and former Bush supporters. Like McCain in 2008, Ridge could easily become the favorite of the media and thereby gain free exposure while his opponents buy ad time trying to convince conservative voters why one of them is better than the others.

There won’t be any of the usual tell-tale signs of a run. With Ridge sitting things out unless the party ‘drafts’ him, all the work on setting up a Ridge campaign will be done through re-starting the McCain network. Keep an eye on McCain’s donors from 2008. If their money isn’t going to one of the current field of candidates, it could very well mean they are planning to work together on behalf of a single alternate candidate. Ridge tops the list of people to whom they would turn. Keep an eye also on McCain after the 2010 elections and see if he starts re-connecting with his former network. As unlikely as is may sound today, Tom Ridge stands a better than average shot of becoming the 2012 Republican nominee. After all, no one expected McCain to win the nomination either.

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