GOP Suffers Blow as Ridge Passes on Race

By Teddy Davis

May 7, 2009 3:11pm

ABC News’ Teddy Davis reports: The Republican Party suffered a major blow on Thursday when Tom Ridge, the former Pennsylvania governor and Secretary of Homeland Security, announced that he will not run for the U.S. Senate in 2010. “After careful consideration and many conversations with friends and family and the leadership of my party, I have decided not to seek the Republican nomination for Senate," said Ridge in a written statement. Ridge’s decision not to run is a boon to Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa. The longtime moderate Republican senator switched parties on April 28 to avoid a tough GOP primary challenge from former Rep. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., a one-time head of the anti-tax Club for Growth who has pilloried Specter for supporting the borrowing and spending contained in President Obama’s stimulus package. While national Republicans thought that Ridge gave the party the best chance of winning the seat in 2010, it was by no means a sure thing that he could win the GOP primary against the more conservative Toomey. According to a poll conducted by Research 2000 for the liberal Daily Kos site, Ridge was trailing Toomey in a hypothetical Republican primary match-up by 8 points.  With Ridge out of the race, Toomey is now the frontrunner to be the GOP nominee even though the chairman and vice chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Texas Sen. John Cornyn and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, have made comments casting doubt on whether Toomey can be elected statewide in Pennsylvania, a state which has been trending Democratic. National Republican strategists are trying to put a brave face on Ridge’s announcement, saying it is still early and that there are other Republican candidate who are looking at the race. One moderate Republican weighing a Senate run is Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-Pa., who represents parts of Chester, Berks, and Montgomery Counties. Gerlach’s general-election credentials include a record of having held onto a swing district in 2004 and 2006 despite being a top Democratic target. He also has a record of occasionally breaking with Republicans on issues like the state Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, and expanding the definition of hate crimes to include gays and lesbians. Gerlach, however, lacks Ridge’s statewide pedigree and would likely have a difficult time beating Toomey among the conservatives who will dominate the state’s Republican primary. A non-partisan poll released earlier this week by Quinnipiac University underscores why Ridge’s announcement is a setback to Republicans. In a hypothetical general election match up with Toomey, Specter wins by 20 points, drawing 18 percent of the Republican vote. In a race against Ridge, by contrast, the contest is about even: Specter barely edges Ridge, 46 percent to 43 percent. In the statement he released Thursday, Ridge acknowledged the high stakes for his party. "The 2010 race has significant implications for my party, and that required thoughtful reflection," said Ridge. Ultimately, however, Ridge decided that he would prefer to make a public service contribution from outside of the Senate. "My desire and intention," said Ridge, "is to help my party craft solutions that both sides of the aisle can embrace." To read Ridge’s full statement click here. ABC News’ David Chalian contributed to this report.
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