Election Showdown? Ridge vs. Specter

A showdown between two of Pennsylvania’s best-known politicians could be brewing.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge is seriously considering getting back in touch with his political side and making a run for the U.S. Senate in next year's Republican primary, according to party leaders.

This is good news to some leaders of the Republican party, as they look for a moderate candidate to counter Sen. Arlen Specter’s switch to the Democratic party.  Specter shocked political observers last week when he announced he was ending his four-decade relationship with the Republican Party. He said he faced a "bleak" chance of getting re-elected in a party that had grown increasingly conservative. Polls had him more than 20-percentage points behind former Congressman Pat Toomey.

Specter, 79, is seeking a sixth Senate term and the latest poll out this week showed as a Democrat, Specter would have no trouble beating Toomey, but Ridge is a threat.

Ridge would be "a great candidate," says Rob Gleason, the state Republican chairman.

"It would be exciting to have him" on the 2010 ticket, Gleason said. "He would definitely beat Specter -- hands down."

Party sources told the Inky that Ridge misses politics and public serve.

The Quinnipiac University poll showed Specter and Ridge running about even in a race. Ridge, who has not run in an election since 1998, had a slight edge with a 55-percent favorability rating and Specter with 52 percent.

Ridge, 63, is a Harvard graduate from Erie, PA. He served 12 years in Congress before he was elected governor in 1994. He stepped down during his second term after President George W. Bush tapped him to head what would become the Department of Homeland Security after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He left that post in 2005 and now runs a Washington-based consulting firm, Ridge Global LLC.

Ridge is a combat veteran of the Vietnam War and was awarded the Bronze Star for bravery.

Ridge may have some extra incentive to run for a U.S. Senate seat. Moderate Republican leaders are concerned 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 according to Philly.com.

Toomey, who for the past four years headed the Washington, D.C.-based Club for Growth, a politically active conservative group that promotes a smaller government and lower taxes, issued a statement through his campaign that sought to paint both Ridge and Specter as too liberal for the GOP.

It said Toomey "is the candidate with the consistent record of standing up for taxpayers that is needed to win the GOP primary, who has a track record of winning general elections in Democratic-leaning areas."

Specter faces opposition in the Democratic primary from Philadelphia-area civic leader Joe Torsella, who has already raised more than $600,000 for a campaign run. U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak also has said he may enter the race.

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