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Ridge rallies troops for Jeb Bush

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge (R) and dozens of his long-time backers met for breakfast Friday to put their muscle behind Jeb Bush in 2016.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge is getting the band back together – for Jeb Bush in 2016.

Some 40 Ridge loyalists gathered for a breakfast meeting Friday at the Union League in Philadelphia to discuss how to build fundraising and political momentum for Bush, the former governor of Florida, in the Keystone State.

"It was like a reunion, everywhere I looked around the room," said Ridge, 69, the founder and CEO of a security consulting firm in Washington. He served as governor from 1993 to 2001, when he joined the George W. Bush administration after the September 11 attacks as the first presidential adviser on homeland security, and later became the first secretary of the Homeland Security department.

Ridge, as a former chief executive, said he's biased toward governors in general but likes Jeb Bush's record of solid economic growth and education reform in Florida, and his refusal to drop support for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants in the face of anger from the party's right wing.

"I love that his message is aspirational," Ridge said. "There aren't many candidates in that crowd who can appeal to minority voters, which we absolutely have to do. Bush can."

Businessman and philanthropist Manny Stamatakis, a longtime Republican donor and fundraiser who helped Ridge win the governorship in 1994, organized Friday's gathering. He, too, said that he believes Jeb Bush has a better chance of expanding the GOP's base than the other candidates running.

Among other leaders present were former state GOP chairman Alan Novak, a Chester County lawyer and lobbyist; Republican National Committeewoman of Christine Toretti lawyer former state GOP chairman, Christine Torretti of Indiana, Pa.; and businesswoman Renee Amoore, of Montgomery County.

There are deep ties between Ridge and the Bush family. Before he was elected to a congressional seat in Erie, Ridge worked on George H.W. Bush's 1980 primary campaign in Pennsylvania. The senior Bush won the primary, but lost the nomination to Ronald Reagan, who chose him as his running mate.

"Papa Bush will tell you to this day that one reason Ronald Reagan picked him was because of how well he did in Pennsylvania, with its moderate-conservative voters," Ridge said, adding that the state's voters are precisely the ones Jeb Bush attracts.

Attendees heard from David James, the recently named political director for Jeb Bush's campaign, who is from West Chester, Pa. and is a former executive director of the state Republican Party. James also worked for the Republican National Committee, the 2004 reelection campaign for President George W. Bush, and Mitt Romney, for whom he was a senior adviser in 2008 and 2012.

"I feel great working for a candidate who is ready to be president right now," James said.

The meeting was not a fundraiser, organizers said. Not to worry, though, "we'll tap into them later," Ridge said.