Sen. John McCain answers questions under the watchful eye of the Secret Service during a town hall meeting at the F.M. Kirby Center on Wednesday.S. John Wilkin/The Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE - In 1982, two Vietnam veterans began their first terms in Congress, and 26 years later they are working together to claim the White House for the Republican Party.
U.S. Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is seeking to become the next commander in chief and his friend former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge is serving as his national campaign co-chairman.
A report earlier this week had McCain close to announcing his choice for running mate, but McCain has since quelled that rumor. At one time – and maybe even still – Ridge was thought to be on the short list of potential vice presidential candidates.
Ridge, 62, and McCain, 71, formed a bond in 1982.
State Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, deputy chief of staff for Ridge when he was governor, said the two have remained close friends since their early days in Congress.
Baker introduced McCain at Wednesday’s town hall meeting at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts. She had the same task at the private luncheon that followed at the Westmoreland Club.
“I think Gov. Ridge fits the profile of an ideal vice presidential candidate,” Baker said. “He certainly doesn’t need on-the-job training. He has the experience of being a legislator and a chief executive. I think he would be an excellent running mate for Sen. McCain.”
Reached at his Washington, D.C., consulting office, Ridge Global, Ridge was quick to talk about his friend and why he feels McCain is the clear choice in the race for the White House.
“Sen. McCain possesses the qualities of leadership and courage necessary to be an effective president,” Ridge said. “When it comes to military experience, diplomacy and economic expertise, Sen. McCain is clearly the best option for voters.”
Ridge said McCain’s opponent – Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama – is a great speaker, but lacks the experience needed to be president.
“Sen. Obama is horribly inexperienced,” Ridge said. “His hopefulness lacks details and is filled with everybody else’s aspirations. He doesn’t have the same level of vision or judgment to be president that John McCain has.”
On the subject of the vice presidency, Ridge made it clear he is neither seeking nor lobbying for the job.
“But when your name is mentioned for that position by someone who will be the next president of the United States, it certainly is an honor,” Ridge said. “If the next president thinks enough of you, not just out of friendship, but for what you would bring to the office, it is very humbling.”
Ridge said he doesn’t know if his name has been vetted or even if the McCain campaign has begun the vetting process.
“We have been friends since 1982 when we entered Congress together, and we have managed to maintain that friendship over the years,” Ridge said.
Ridge criticized Obama for his position on the Iraq war and said Obama voted against sending the troops in, against the surge and against funding for the war.
“And he would withdraw the troops unconditionally,” Ridge said. “Yet he has recently admitted that the surge has been successful. Then he stated he basically would vote the same way today. It’s one thing to exercise bad judgment, but to say you would exercise the same bad judgment when proven wrong is not a good quality for a president.”
McCain wouldn’t comment on who his vice president might be, but spoke in glowing terms of his longtime friend and colleague.
“I’m a great admirer of Tom Ridge,” McCain said. “I consider him to be a great friend.”
“When your name is mentioned for that position by someone who will be the next president …, it certainly is an honor.”