The push is on in the leadership circles of the Pennsylvania GOP to get former Governor and Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge to run for the U.S. Senate against ex-Congressman Pat Toomey.
State GOP chairman Robert Gleason says Ridge is his first choice to be the GOP nominee against Specter. Even Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, a Pittsburgh native, is getting into the act saying of the conservative Toomey: “I don’t think there is anybody in the world who believes he could get elected senator there.”
The desperation of the anti-Toomey forces is apparent in the media as well. Columns of newsprint are being filled picking up the Specter argument that the Pennsylvania GOP is somehow filled with foaming right-wingers. Should Ridge take a pass on the race, it is suggested that the two moderate front-runners for the GOP gubernatorial nomination settle the matter with one, either Attorney General Tom Corbett or former US attorney Pat Meehan, run for governor while the other takes on Toomey in the Senate race.
Ridge has not been on the ballot in the state since his successful re-election race for governor in 1998. His departure from the governorship was unique in state history. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 President Bush decided to create a White House office of Homeland Security, persuading Ridge to resign the governor’s office to take the job. In what was one of the most memorable scenes in state history, a swearing-in of Ridge’s lieutenant governor as the new state chief executive was hastily arranged for the state capitol steps. With the entire country shaken over the events, everyone in the state was acutely aware one of the hijacked planes had been forced down in Somerset County, just to the east of Pittsburgh. The street accesses to the state capitol were physically sealed with huge Pennsylvania Department of Transportation dump trucks and buses blocking traffic. National guard helicopters buzzed overhead, and state police sharpshooters were perched on the roof of the capitol complex. The new governor sworn in, Ridge departed to thunderous applause from a teary-eyed crowd clearly viewing the Vietnam vet as the local hero being summoned to help fight the bad guys. His state trooper bodyguards yielded to U.S. Secret Service agents and Ridge disappeared into a small motorcade of black SUVs, literally Washington bound that instant.
Will all this re-surface to propel him to a Senate win over Toomey and then Specter? In the end, he went on to be the first Secretary of the newly upgraded Cabinet Department of Homeland Security, a job in which he picked up the usual critics for his performance. When his name surfaced as a potential running mate for GOP nominee John McCain in 2008, the suggestion drew sniping from Pennsylvania conservatives who focused on his pro-choice views.
You would think the primary is this May, instead of a year from May. Stay tuned. Chaos reins in the Pennsylvania GOP.