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Tom Ridge is looking hard at running for Senate

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge is seriously considering a run for the U.S. Senate in next year's Republican primary, as some leaders of the party seek a moderate candidate to counter Sen. Arlen Specter's switch to the Democrats.

Tom Ridge misses politics, Republican sources say.
Tom Ridge misses politics, Republican sources say.Read more

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge is seriously considering a run for the U.S. Senate in next year's Republican primary, as some leaders of the party seek a moderate candidate to counter Sen. Arlen Specter's switch to the Democrats.

Several Republicans familiar with Ridge's thinking said he missed politics and public service. One person who has spoken with him quoted the former governor as saying he was "extremely intrigued" with the idea.

Ridge's interest comes amid moderate Republican leaders' concerns that former Lehigh Valley congressman Pat Toomey, whose challenge drove Specter out of the party, is too conservative to win a general election against Specter or another Democrat in November 2010.

The race could be muddied even more if other Democrats mulling a race decide to challenge Specter in his new party's primary.

"Ridge is probably 50/50 at this point," said another person who had spoken with him about the race. "You could flip a coin." The sources who described Ridge's deliberations requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on his behalf.

Ridge, 63, was the nation's first Homeland Security secretary until leaving government in early 2005. He now runs an international security-consulting business in Washington, Ridge Global L.L.C.

On the Democratic side, meanwhile, some liberal and labor activists say they are outraged that President Obama, Gov. Rendell, and other top Democrats immediately endorsed Specter to discourage other primary candidates.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee was to launch an online straw poll this morning on whether to draft suburban Philadelphia U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, who was exploring a Senate bid when Specter switched.

Sestak said on Fox News Radio's Brian and the Judge show yesterday that his irritation at party leaders' presumption made him more inclined to challenge Specter. Civic leader Joe Torsella has been organizing a campaign for the Democratic nomination and has raised more than $600,000.

"The goal is to give the grass roots a voice in the debate," Adam Green, cofounder of the progressive change committee, said of the straw poll at

All of this was touched off by Specter's surprise decision last week to turn Democrat. Often unpopular with the GOP's conservative base for his moderate votes, Specter nonetheless was cruising toward the nomination for a sixth term until his crucial vote for Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus ignited a firestorm. He concluded he could not beat Toomey.

A Public Opinion Strategies poll released yesterday found Ridge leading a hypothetical matchup with Toomey in the Republican primary, 60 percent to 23 percent. The former governor also would run stronger against either Specter or Sestak, according to the poll, commissioned by Republican National Committeeman Bob Asher's Keystone Alliance PAC.

"The results are very encouraging," said Asher, a leader of the GOP moderates who hope to entice Ridge into the race. "We have to rebuild the party around strong candidates," he said.

Ridge would hold a 48 percent to 41 percent lead over Specter, and Toomey would trail Specter, 40 percent to 49 percent, the poll said. Ridge enjoys a 67 percent favorability rating, while 50 percent have a favorable view of Specter.

The survey was based on telephone interviews conducted Sunday and Monday with 700 registered voters who said they were likely to cast ballots in the 2010 Senate race, including 450 Republicans. Results were subject to an error margin of 3.7 percentage points for general-election matchups and 4.6 percentage points on the primary questions, asked of Republican respondents.

Toomey's campaign said that the poll showed him within striking distance of Specter in a general election and that it had been commissioned by former Specter supporters.

"It's not surprising it would show their preferred candidate ahead," said Toomey spokeswoman Nachama Soloveichik. "Tom Ridge is an honorable person, with very high name ID, so there's no doubt he would begin a campaign with high poll numbers." She said the primary campaign would reveal "countless similarities" between Ridge's and Specter's records.

It is unclear how Ridge, who has not faced voters since his easy reelection in 1998, would fit ideologically with a Republican electorate that pollsters and analysts say has grown more conservative. Ridge's support of abortion rights reportedly disqualified him as GOP presidential candidate John McCain's running mate last year.

Ridge grew up in public housing in Erie, won a scholarship to Harvard University, and served in Vietnam as an enlisted man after his first year of law school at Dickinson College, winning the Bronze Star for valor.

He was elected to Congress in 1982 and served until he was elected governor in a three-way race in 1994. He left after the 2001 terrorist attacks to join President George W. Bush's administration, where he helped set up the Department of Homeland Security.